Harold Ramis, best known as Egon: the nerdiest ghostbuster, is a less caustic spiritual successor to Mel Brooks as the director of this Jack Black/Michael Cera caveman comedy. Year One often feels like the never-made History of the World: Part 2 as it follows it’s heroes on an impossible journey through the evolution of human civilization.
Like Brooks’ historical spoofs, co-writer Ramis’ best jokes pit present-day personas against the ancient customs of past peoples. Black plays Zed, a spastic screw-up at the bottom of the hunter totem pole. Zed’s social-pariah partner in crime is Oh (Cera), a weakling male gatherer whose inventive intelligence goes unappreciated by his meathead tribesmen and his cave-girl crush, Eema. The juxtaposition of Jack and Cera’s modern manner (each basically playing themselves) in prehistoric times makes for some inspired moments, such as Zed urging Oh to hit Eema over the head with a stick after dancing with her, because, you know, it’s what you do. Or, when Zed and Oh run into Abraham and ask him whether Sodom or Gomorrah has the most prostitutes, so they can avoid going there.
When Zed and Oh finally reach Sodom, the film regretfully begins to rest on its gross-out humor haunches. Leading the pack in the ill-inspired Farrelly Brothers hijinks is Oliver Platt, whose make-up wearing, hairy, high priest could have only been more annoying if played by Robin Williams. Other cameos prove no more entertaining with half-assed attempts from the otherwise funny David Cross, Hank Azaria, Kyle Gass and Bill Hader. Even the fearsome Vinnie Jones is given nought to be menacing about.
Where Mel Brooks often squeezed biting social and racial satire out of his modern-man-in-olden-days scenarios, Ramis stops just short of subversion. For every slightly progressive message there are equally regressive and stale notions throughout. The roles written for women in the film are relegated to the same objectification that ancient women were likely subjected to, ironic wink not included.
Still, the duo of Black and Cera provide for some charming and witty moments, and though it’s hit or miss, it’s nice that an aging Ramis can still have the sense of humor of a 15-year-old.