Harold Ramis is the director and/or writer behind some of the funniest films ever made. His credits include Caddyshack, Groundhog Day, and Ghostbusters amongst others. His latest movie, Year One, will do absolutely nothing to add to his reputation, rather, it very well may take away from it.
The film follows two would-be hunter-gatherers as they make their way through various moments in the book of Genesis. Things in the film really get going when Zed (Jack Black) opts to take a bite of the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Rather than actually learning anything more about himself or gaining insight into his world, following his snack he gets booted from his village for being a troublemakers – something he was well before he ever took a bite of the apple. His friend, Oh (Michael Cera), very reluctantly heads out of the village with Zed, and the two head off into the unknown.
On their journey, Zed and Oh meet Cain and Abel, witness Abraham's binding of Isaac, but end up spending the majority of their time in Sodom, a place they initially believe will be great fun. Of course, things don't turn out to be great in Sodom – people want them dead, they still get no respect, and find themselves in horrible situations, but somehow they manage to defeat the various villains they encounter and save the city (an alternate ending included with the Blu-ray features the destruction of the city).
The film is full of extremely talented, funny, actors who are completely wasted in the roles given them. Cera and Black both play the type of roles for which they have already been typecast. Cera is the quiet, lovable loser, awkward and in love, but never quite sure how to go about pursuing his dreams. Black is the loud, obnoxious, buffoon, never aware of how unintelligent he is and refusing to believe it when anyone explains it to him.
Cameos in the film include Paul Rudd (Abel), Hank Azaria (Abraham), and Ramis himself (Adam). These three are unquestionably the funniest characters in the film, but that may be because they are never present long enough to make a serious impact. Those who stick around longer, David Cross (Cain, Oliver Platt (the High Priest in Sodom), and others, wear out their welcome early on.
Year One is a film which, for its first half, is never quite sure what it wants to be. Witnessing some of the moments in Genesis works well enough, and just as one gets the sense that the film is going to be a History of the World Part I-esque romp (though never as funny) everything gets bogged down with the trip to Sodom. To that point the film had never been comedic genius, but had at the very least had moments of wittiness. Once in Sodom, those moments of wittiness are all but gone. It is as though someone working on the production decided that at some point the film should attempt to develop an actual plot rather than simply being a loosely strung together series of vignettes. Ramis should not have listened to whomever said as much, even if it was in the screenplay he wrote along with Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, because the resultant film is awkward, unfunny, and downright disappointing.
The Blu-ray release of Year One contains both a theatrical and unrated cut as well as a plethora of bonus material, all as haphazardly put together as the film itself. There is behind-the-scenes featurette as well as an alternate ending, which is placed separately from the alternate/extended scenes, which is placed separately from the deleted scenes, which is separate from the "line-o-rama" feature, which shows various scenes from the movie done with different dialog, which is separate from the gag (or "blooper") reel, which is separate from the mock advertisement for Sodom. The features are also vaguely disappointing because some of the gags and some of the extra lines are from scenes which only exist in the alternate or deleted scenes, not from the main feature itself. So, essentially some of the material included is stuff that didn't make the grade in a part of the film that didn't make the grade for a film that… well… didn't make the grade.
The best thing that can be said about the film is that on Blu-ray, even if the plot is ridiculous and the main actors sleepwalking through their parts, it does look and sound awfully good. The details are sharp, black levels good, and there is nary a scratch or bit of noise to be found (as ought to be expected for a new release). The sound levels are good, and the audio comes through cleanly, which means that every unfunny line of dialogue can be heard as clear as a bell.
Year One is the perfect example of a film which has almost everything required to make a successful comedy – a world-class director, top shelf actors, and great source material. Why exactly they all ended up coming together for this bomb of a movie is both inexplicable and completely disappointing. It would be wonderful to see these guys team up again with a funny script.