- The Washington Times - Friday, June 19, 2009

There are two kinds of Harold Ramis movies: thoughtful, introspective comedies with deeper societal implications (“Groundhog Day”) and gross-out, poop-joke comedies (“Caddyshack”). “Year One” falls squarely into that second category.

Unfortunately, “Year One” has neither the wit nor the verve of “Caddyshack.” Nor does it contain any iconic characters or enduring gags. It doesn’t bring much conviction to its one big idea — that individuals can control their own destinies.

There are, however, a number of excrement jokes. So it’s got that going for it.

“Year One” tells the tale of Zed (Jack Black) and Oh (Michael Cera), a failed hunter and a sensitive gatherer, respectively. They are outcasts in their prehistoric village, unable to score with comely lasses Maya (June Diane Raphael) and Eema (Juno Temple) or provide for themselves. After tasting the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge, Zed is banished from the village and Oh tags along. What follows is an Old Testament highlight reel’s worth of comic misadventures as the pair trek through biblical lands toward Sodom and Gomorrah in an effort to track down their enslaved lady friends.

An impressive array of supporting actors encountered along the way are given depressingly little to do. David Cross and Paul Rudd play Cain and Abel; Hank Azaria and Christopher Mintz-Plasse play Abraham and Isaac; Oliver Platt plays a gay high priest in Sodom, while Mr. Ramis plays Adam. Though each of these actors has a fine moment or two, none of them is around long enough to build up any sort of rhythm or make a lasting impression.

This is the second big-budget comedy this summer in which Mr. Azaria plays an inspired bit part. His Abraham (like his Kahmunrah in “Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian”) is a little lispy and entirely over-the-top; he’s obsessed with circumcision and the wickedness of the Sodomites.

Mr. Cera is an excellent straight man: His nonplussed delivery, even-keeled manner and mumbling charm serve as the perfect counter to Mr. Black’s intense, goofy mannerisms. As for Mr. Black, he has exactly one setting, and we’ve seen it many times before. He just happens to be wearing a loincloth this time around.

“Year One” is something of a step backward for Mr. Ramis. Though unjustly ignored at the box office, “The Ice Harvest” was a darkly comic neo-noir, the sort of movie rarely seen outside of the Tarantinoverse. It’s understandable that he would want to score a box-office hit after a few middling results over the past decade, and teaming Mr. Cera and Mr. Black in a farcical comedy probably looked like a sure thing 18 months ago, when filming started.

The resulting picture, however, feels lazy: There’s no cheap joke Mr. Ramis and company didn’t go for, no gag-worthy gag they didn’t include. It’s an unfortunate regression for such a talented writer and director.

★★

TITLE: “Year One”

RATING: PG-13 (crude and sexual content throughout, brief strong language and comic violence)

CREDITS: Directed by Harold Ramis, written by Mr. Ramis, Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg

RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes

WEB SITE: www.yearone-movie.com/