Year One (November 10th 2010)
Harold Ramis. Jack Black. Michael Cera. Hank Azaria. Paul Rudd. Christopher Mintz-Plasse. Just some of the names that star in/direct one of the biggest comedies of 2009, written by Gene Stupnitsky (The Office) and Harold Ramis (Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day and Animal House to name but a few). Somehow, despite the stellar names and a fairly watertight premise, Year One doesn’t quite deliver.
Perhaps the episodic nature of Zed and Oh’s quest through the early days of man is to blame for the failings of Year One. The almost sketch-like quality of some scenes makes this play out as a cheap imitation of Monty Python more than an original comedy operating of its own will.
The joke writing is, as expected, fantastic. As are the deliveries from both Michael Cera and Jack Black, with it looking like the film was written specifically for the pair (a more than possible suggestion). Cera’s naive awkwardness combined with Black’s extroverted showmanship makes for an excellent comedic combination, and some of their exchanges deserve to have been put in a better film.
It is always slightly saddening to see TV stars toiling away in bit parts in movies that aren’t fit to wipe the shoes of the shows that comprise their day job. Here we have Olivia Wilde (Thirteen from House) and Xander Berkeley (George Mason of 24) in roles that are far beneath them. Berkeley spends his time on screen gurning like a fool, while Wilde’s input is apparently to look sultry and put on a fairly poor English accent, or at least I think that’s what she was doing.
Year One is by no means a bad film. In a year that has seen the likes of Bruno and Lesbian Vampire Killers, at least this manages to stay on the side of good taste. Having said that, it does seem to be stuck in the past. Cera’s other major feature of the year, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, symbolises a new wave of comedic films, supported ably by Sam Mendes’ Away We Go and (500) Days of Summer, from Marc Webb. These are comedies based around believable, likeable characters. Year One is a series of events that doesn’t lend itself well to the feature film format.
This is certainly not the worst film of the year, nor is it even close, but coming from the range of names that it does, Year One can only be seen as a disappointment. Jack Black will always keep people amused, but this film smacks of a lazy vehicle created solely for his improvisational comedy to take centre stage.
As I write this, I am aware that a sequel is on its way. One can only hope that a little more effort is put into it than there was first time round, and that there are less gaps in the script where it says “Roll camera on JB for five minutes, see if anything good comes up.”