June 28, 2009

Year One (06/28/09)

Lettergrade: F

Year One features a number of actors and comedians I really like, as well as some very pretty women of whom I had never heard. It was co-written / directed by Harold Ramis, who has been involved with some of the best comedies of the 80s and 90s including Caddyshack, National Lampoon's Vacation and Groundhog Day. And in spite of all this, it is easily the worst movie I've seen of this year and many another.

What happened? How, I ask, can a high-concept comedy with so much talent and a sizable budget behind it play for 95 minutes and fail to get even a single laugh? In high school, I had a history teacher who promised to award an A to any student who managed to get every single answer on his multiple choice tests wrong -- the idea being that you need to know the right answers in order to be confident that you're selecting the wrong ones. More than once, I wondered if Ramis was trying for the comedy equivalent of that.

Jack Black and Arrested Development's Michael Cera are expelled from their primitive tribe, and go off on an adventure through various stories from the book of Genesis: Cain and Abel, Abraham who was ordered by God to kill his son Isaac, and then (very loosely) the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, which dominates the second half of the movie. Conceptually, it's a little like they took the plot from Mel Gibson's Apocalypto and mixed it with the approach of Mel Brooks' History Of The World Part I, but without the big laughs of either.

Almost everything is mishandled. The sets feel cheap and unconvincing. The smirking dialogue constantly winks at the camera in a very self-aware we're-famous-actors-pretending-to-be-ancient-people kind of way. The whole movie feels sort of like one of those sketches from the old Carson Tonight Show where Johnny would dress up like Tarzan or something and rattle off a series of hammy, pun-based jokes. When Johnny did it, it was endearing more than outright funny, but it was amusing nevertheless, mainly because he limited himself to 4 or 5 minutes.

Besides Ramis, two screenwriters from The Office are listed in the credits. Most of the dialogue exists without wit or punchline, leading me to believe that actors were given free reign to come up with it as they went. If, in fact, there was a script which includes anything that even remotely resembles what the actors say on screen, the writers ought to be barred from working in comedy ever again and the executives at Columbia Pictures who okayed their work need to be brought up on criminal negligence charges. These same guys are working on the script to the next Ghostbusters movie. Unless there are a few more names after theirs on the final poster (meaning that others were brought in to rewrite what they did) consider yourself warned.

One scene -- one goddamn scene! -- before the big climax attempts to persuade us that movie actually has a thematic point about how people throughout history have charted their own destiny: That you are the person you have the guts to present yourself as. It feels wafer-thin, half-assed, and almost insulting. Better to be open about the fact that you have no purpose, than to have no purpose and pretend otherwise.

In the car on the way home, Laura and I debated if this movie is worse than Watchmen and / or Observe & Report, the other contenders for biggest piece of junk that we've seen in 2009. Although I'm aware that the wounds are still fresh, I have to go with this. With Year One I knew there was great talent involved in pretty much every aspect of the production, which makes the movie that much worse when you think about how much better everyone could have done.

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