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'Year One' is unfunny, adolescent, awkward

Film review

Film review

June 23, 2009|By BOB GARVER / Special to The Herald-Mail

The funniest thing about "Year One" is the title and you get that for free. It's sort of funny to imagine a year numbered so low that it can be spelled so easily. It's funnier to imagine the kind of New Year's celebration they might have had to bring in the Year Two.

But "Year One" is so unfunny it can't even capitalize on a gag like this, one that the filmmakers practically set up for themselves.

Instead, the movie chooses to focus on two dimwit hunter-gatherers played by Jack Black and Michael Cera. Since Black is loud and hairy, it's not hard to picture him as a primitive villager. But the casting of Cera should be the first sign that the movie is in trouble. He doesn't look the part, and his style of humor involves his own social awkwardness.

"Year One" takes place in a society that hasn't evolved to a point where there's such a thing as awkward.

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A typical exchange goes like this: Black yells, "We gotta do this, it's gonna be awesome!" Then Cera replies with, "Uh, yeah, I mean, I guess we can do that. It'll probably get us killed, but, OK." This is supposed to be funny because the things they're talking about are all goofy Early Man things.

The title "Year One" implies that the story takes place around the time of Christ, but actually the setting is a mix-n-match from the Old Testament. Zed (Black) and Oh (Cera) get kicked out of their village for eating from the Tree of Knowledge. They stumble on Cain (David Cross) just as he's betraying Abel. They meet up with Abraham (Hank Azaria) as he's about to sacrifice Isaac (Christopher "McLovin" Mintz-Plasse). Everybody ends up in Sodom, where Zed and Oh are determined to rescue two women who don't like them.

Aside from being unfunny, "Year One" suffers from bad pacing. Many gags are centered around jokes going too long, a device that is being used too much lately. The film is a chore to sit through. Get through it by playing Bob Garver's Popcorn Games. The rules for "Year One":

o Eat a piece every time someone eats something disgusting.

o Eat a piece every time a bodily function is played for laughs.

o Eat a piece every time someone casually throws an archaic name like Marlak into the middle of a line and you're supposed to laugh at it.

o Eat two pieces every time someone uses an archaic name as an entire line and you're supposed to laugh at it.

o Every time the sleazy high priest (Oliver Platt) orders Oh to rub oil on his chest, eat a particularly dry piece. You won't want to put anything greasy in your mouth.

o Eat a piece when an actor like Cera is clearly wearing a wig because their real life hair is too short and neat.

o Don't eat a piece when someone has too much body hair. Just try to keep down the pieces you've eaten so far.

o Eat a piece when Zed and Oh are introduced to the wheel. Eat two pieces when they discover an unfortunate side effect of wheel travel. (You'll actually be eating three pieces because it involves a bodily function.)

I want to say something good about "Year One," but the most positive things I can think of are things that it doesn't do. It isn't a sequel or a remake like too many other films this summer. It doesn't have any lame "Flintstones"-esque gags where the characters have crude versions of modern technologies like iPods. It doesn't have any strobe lights.

But when "Year One" does try to do something funny, it either falls flat or makes you hate the movie.

"Year One" is rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content throughout, brief strong language and comic violence. Its runtime is 97 minutes.

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