Year One – Or How I Found Myself in Jack Black Overload…

Stripes, Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day, even Analyze This… such iconic, memorable films. Such wonderful humor. So much joy I’ve watched them all over and over and over again.

Harold Ramis is resposible for those films, and many more including The Ice Harvest.

Fantastic movies that have stood the test of time.

What happened?

Year One is the first truly disappointing film I’ve seen from Mr. Ramis. Sure, he’s not been firing on all cylinders in his later years like he did when he was younger and running wild with Murray and Akroyd and Belushi. But he’s been a very solid comedic source for decades. Even Bedazzled had its own charms.

But Year One has left me feeling befuddled. Written and directed by Mr. Ramis this film feels so incredibly cheap it made me want to laugh at how low-budget it felt. Except the laughter barely came because the film is so woefully pathetic.

I think the problem lies firmly in the two leads. Jack Black and Michael Cera. Individually I find both of these actors very talented and quite funny. In their schtick they are very good. And they both do their schtick in this film. The problem for me, however, was that the schtick seemed woefully out of place. Their schtick is rooted in the now. The insecurities of today’s virginal nerd, the over the top-ness of a coked out comedian. In some ways they played off each other like the older Billy Crystal and Robin Williams pairing. But this film is, as the title implies, a period piece. And their more modern acting styles (or lack there of) seemed distant and out of place to the surroundings they were given.

Cheap as the film seemed, the set design was quite good, as were the costumes. But there’s something weird about Jack Black spouting off profanities in American English while dressed in a caveman’s attire. The rest of the men in their village spoke strangely and with some degree of “characterization.” Why couldn’t Jack Black and Cera do that? They didn’t even try coming up with any character at all. Well, maybe Cera did. But honestly, he didn’t do anything he hasn’t already done on Arrested Development.

Both of the leads are surrounded by a virtual Who’s Who of strong character actors playing everyone from Caine and Abel to the High Priest of Sodom and Gomorra. David Cross, Hank Azaria, Oliver Platt, even Mr. Ramis himself all give us a taste of truly funny character performances. My favorite aspect of this film is the tremendous work of the supporting cast. The problem is that this is Black and Cera’s film and we are faced with a film that only gives us a taste of the funny in the few minutes that each of these supporting players are on screen.

I found myself realizing that the amazing work Hank Azaria did on this film only served to enhance how out of place Jack Black seemed to be in this film. And with each supporting character’s appearance I felt more and more like the film needed to focus on them, not the two leads. It was very unsettling.

I don’t know… Mr. Ramis was obviously trying to make some true statements in this film about making your own choices in life and questioning authority and analyzing the difference between spirituality and blind religion. I think I heard a good script being performed on the screen in front of me. The problem I think is that the casting of the two leads in this film was very poor.

Have you seen this film? Let me know what you thought about it.


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