I really love Harold Ramis. Not only is he endlessly faithful to Chicago, not only does he seem like one of the nicest guys on the planet, but consider his comic resume. This is a guy who got his start on SCTV and wrote Animal House and Meatballs and Caddyshack and Stripes and Ghostbusters. The guy who directed Caddyshack and National Lampoon's Vacation and Groundhog Day and Analyze This. Seriously -- what other figure in comedy has that much excellence attached to his name? I'm such a fan of Harold Ramis that I even liked his remake of Bedazzled and called the much-darker The Ice Harvest one of the best movies of 2005.
I really wanted to love Ramis' latest film, Year One. Not only did he direct it, but he devised the story and helped co-write it along with Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, two of the main writers on The Office (incidentally one of my favorite shows on TV). I've liked Michael Cera in everything and, in the right role, I can like Jack Black. It even stars one of my favorite stand-up comics, David Cross. This movie had a lot going for it. I so wanted it to be good. Now that I've seen it, I'm left still wanting it to have been better.
It's clear that Ramis was trying to do something a little different with Year One; the movie wants to be a historical-revue comedy in the vein of the classic Monty Python films. Maybe the script was never quite whipped into shape, or maybe he had to hack it to pieces to make the PG-13 rating, but the resulting film is a shapeless mess. Time and time again, scenes just cut off without a punchline. I don't mean they end on a joke that isn't funny -- I mean there literally isn't an end to the scene. Early on the film, Cera's character is wrapped up by a snake; he's concerned, and Black is trying to coach him through it. Then it cuts to the next scene, and we never even find out what happened. There's no joke; no closure. If it happened only once, I might be willing to forgive the film (it is Harold Ramis, after all). Unfortunately, it's a problem that plagues all of Year One.
A Cast That Pushes and Pulls
The cast seems to be all over the place, too. Black and Cera can be funny on their own, but together lack any real chemistry. Cera does his usual deadpan bit, underplaying every moment -- and scores the most laughs in the process. Perhaps because he goes so minimalist, Jack Black felt the need to really push every moment. He feels forced almost all of the time, and his performance only convinces his critics that they're right about him. Hank Azaria shows up as Abraham, making this the second comedy this summer where he does a funny voice to little or no effect. Oliver Platt fares slightly better in an incredibly broad and campy performance. David Cross, playing Cain (of "and Abel" variety) seems halfway to finding a funny character to play; I suspect he had his legs chopped out from underneath him in the editing room.
That's my hope for Year One in general: that it is a victim of its own editing and PG-13 rating. The movie feels sloppy, with a vast majority of the shots taking place in extreme close-ups (not great for comedy) or long shots where the dialogue has clearly been re-dubbed or added in after the fact. I'm hoping there's a funnier version of Year One just waiting to debut on DVD, where the movie can be rediscovered and appreciated. Maybe that's just the Harold Ramis fan in me talking, but I've got my hopes up. After all, it took me at least two viewings to warm up to Bedazzled.
- Year One is rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content throughout, brief strong language and comic violence.
- Running Time: 97 minutes
- Release Date: June 19, 2009