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Year One

In the beginning was the word. And it was good. Then along came Jack Black and Michael Cera to mutter the word under their breath and give it odd readings, and it was funny, sure, but what did it all mean?

A meandering comedy that wanders in and out of the Book of Genesis, Year One features the two slightly mismatched actors as Zed and Oh, primitive men who live in Eden while civilizations have begun rising the next valley over. When a slight misunderstanding over the forbidden fruit leads to their exile, Zed (Black) leads his buddy to the end of the world - only to discover there's a whole land beyond.

In no short order they encounter Cain (David Cross) and Abel (Paul Rudd), director Harold Ramis as Adam, and improbably stop Abraham (Hank Azaria) from killing Isaac (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). They run afoul of the Sodomite General Sargon (Vinnie Jones,) but stop short of leading the Jews into Egypt.

It's a little surprising that that story wasn't thrown into the blender as well, since the script by Ramis along with Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg takes shots at so many Bible stories. Nothing wrong with that, really, but it's all done so half-heartedly.

That includes the direction by Ramis, or perhaps somebody wrested this away and edited without a sense of humor. Many situations get decent set-ups, but few pay off. When Zed eats the golden apple of knowledge, a snake wraps itself around Oh. Somewhere in there must be commentary on the story of the serpent tempting Eve, with Cera stuck in the Eve role. Instead, the movie cuts to the two of them walking back to their village, arguing about who's smarter without explaining what happened at all.

And so it goes throughout. Even the conceit of Black thinking he's the smartest man in the world now isn't funny if nobody really challenges him on it, or if from time to time Black would reference it himself. Instead, Ramis depends on Black's persona to sell the joke; nobody bothered writing him any actual funny lines.

The other shots at the Bible stories are pretty predictable - ooh, isn't it funny to talk about adult circumcision! They're in Sodom and everybody's having sex - wait, actually, nobody seems to be at all. There's an orgy here, supposedly, but the worst it gets is a gilded Cera rubbing oil on the hairy chest of the High Priest. Gross, perhaps, but not in any particularly prurient way. It's cheap, it's stupid, it's not what we'd expect from the man who co-wrote Stripes,Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day.

At least he throws in a through-line about Zed and Oh trying to impress and then rescue from slavery the two most beautiful women in their tribe. Maya (June Diane Raphael) and Eema (Juno Temple) get very little to do except look beautiful, but even then Ramis sells them short by introducing the Sodomite Princess Inanna (Olivia Wilde). There may be a pun there, but again, this movie is too lazy to even sell that.

Aping earlier movies like History of the World Part I and, well, History of the World Part I, Year Zero fills the screen with recognizable comedic actors who strive to do something with their parts, but are just underserved by an unfunny screenplay. How can you waste David Cross as the weaselly first murderer in history - and Paul Rudd, who up until now I thought could deliver any line funny? If you must know, go see Year One.

And then also let Ramis know that the mere casting of Vinnie Jones is no longer enough to get a laugh. He blew all his comedic wad in X3 with his "I'm the Juggernaut, b***h." Now he's just a short-tempered thug again, brought in to try to force a little genuine menace into the film.

For a while, at least, Platt rises above the material. It might be the easy route to make the High Priest extremely fey, but at least the veteran actor plays it to the hilt. He's the only one who seems to be aware that he has to be constantly covering up for a lack of divine intervention going on in these character's lives.

Admittedly, the movie has some laughs, but rarely from anything more than shock that they went there. A couple of incest jokes, poop, urine…all of that adds up to just more poop and urine. Those lazy motherlovers.

Derek McCaw

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