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Monday, September 25, 2023

Life + Arts

‘One’ that does not deliver

Year One is not a movie about history or even set in a historical context. In Harold Ramis’ screenplay, the Biblical brothers Cain and Abel are contemporaneous with Abraham and Isaac, as well as the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Year One is also not a film driven by plot since main characters Oh (Michael Cera) and Zed (Jack Black) are moved along from place to place by absurd and poorly justified events, and every character in the movie looks as though they crafted their beards from salvaged shag carpeting.

In fact, to mimic Seinfeld, the movie seems to be about nothing at all. Though the plot certainly can be summarized, there is no real point in doing so in light of how irrelevant it is to the value of the film.

And that’s fine. After all, Monty Python and the Holy Grail isn’t about anything. Mel Brooks’ History of the World: Part I is about even less and both are wildly and historically inaccurate, even deliberately and gleefully so.

Year One is really about individual performances. Ramis isn’t afraid to close in on his actors with the camera at least two or three times per scene, particularly with his two leads.

Cera, of Superbad fame, excels anytime he is given even a brief instant of screen time. Some might complain that he appears to be phoning in his performance. After all, his understated mumbling and self-effacing lines are so quick and quiet that many of his best might go unnoticed in a theater crowd too busy laughing at the overabundance of scatological jokes – a tragedy considering how much of a lift he gives a movie that would otherwise be mediocre, at best.

Black, on the other hand, is abominable in virtually every scene and exponentially more so when the camera closes in for his disingenuous and stuttering improvisational lines.
One example is the line, featured in trailers, where Black’s character, Zed informs his tribe (as he is being kicked out) that he is starting a new tribe, a better tribe, and that it will be called the ‘Muscle Tribe of Danger and Excellence.’ It takes him 10 times as long to deliver the line on camera as it did to read it, because he has to hem and haw and stammer with each new word.

Still, even Cera’s comedic genius might get tiring without a blustering, overly exuberanted idiotic foil to cleanse the palate. Fortunately, Black is not the only actor responsible for bearing the load. The cast is a grab bag of performers, both humorous and serious, each with at least one or two hilarious moments.

Particularly hilarious is Oliver Platt as Sodom’s hedonistic high priest, though all the second-billed talents perform well and without making the movie seem cluttered.

The movie is a fun watch, though the screenwriting vacillates wildly between snappy and obnoxiously dull. It might be worth watching, if one can get past scenes of Black eating human excrement or masturbating.

Ultimately, the film’s true value may lie in putting Black next to Cera, from whom he has hopefully learned a thing or two about humor and subtlety.

Year One
Rated: Rated PG-13
Starring: Michael Cera, Jack Black
Verdict: Watch your step. Subtle humor hard to find amid many poop jokes

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