Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Year One

Like all people who know things, Arrested Development is one of my favorite TV shows of the decade and quite probably my favorite sitcom of all time. But in contrast to the majority GOB Bluth opinion it was always Michael Cera's George Michael that made the show for me; his stammering, low self-esteem awkwardness made me laugh like a dying hyena without fail and made every scene he stepped into guaranteed gold.

Thus, despite the usual internet backlash against anything popular for more than five minutes, I don't mind that Cera basically plays George Michael with a different name in Superbad, Juno, and Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist. Hell, I encourage it, and I'll go see anything he's awkward in even in light of terrible reviews, which led me straight into the local multiplex for a midday screening of Year One.

And, well, sometimes the critics are right. This is an abominably stupid movie.

Basically, for anyone living in the blissful dark, Year One is about Jack Black and Michael Cera living in a pastiche of prehistoric and biblical times. They get exiled from their tribe and go on zany adventures meeting characters from the Old Testament. I can't really tell you any more, not out of any desire not to spoil this shitty movie, but because there's not much more to tell. This is basically a series of loosely-connected sketches, which I have no inherent problem with except that each and every sketch is incompetent and the director (heartbreakingly enough, Harold Ramis, director of the masterpiece Groundhog Day) seems to have no idea how to structure a joke.

I make no claim to be Monty Python here, but I think we can all agree that a good sketch has a buildup and a punchline. There can be smaller jokes on the way to the whopper punchline, but there needs to be some climax or twist or else you're looking at comedic blueballs. Year One doesn't comprehend this, and leaves every setup flopping limply in the wind, losing interest and moving on to a new one halfway through. A few of many, many examples:

Setup: A large snake wraps itself around Michael Cera's neck. He is afraid, Jack Black gives him bad advice to try to get out of the bind.
Punchline(?): After an uncomfortable minute, we merely cut away to a new scene and a throwaway line about Michael Cera being lucky to get out of there is dropped. Hilarious!

Setup: Jack Black has never heard of gays before and plans to try to seduce a prehistoric lesbian.
Punchline(?): She tells him she is a lesbian immediately and he is disappointed, and we cut to a new scene. Hilarious!

Setup: A high priest instructs Michael Cera to rub oil on his chest. Cera does so uncomfortably for a minute.
Punchline(?): We cut to the next scene and Michael Cera is no longer rubbing oil on the priest's chest. Hilarious!

Setup: Jack Black and Michael Cera see a cougar staring at them from a tree. They freeze for a minute and discuss whether they should stand still or run.
Punchline(?): They run and make it away from the cougar. Hilarious!

Setup: Jack Black and Michael Cera are staying in the tent of Abraham. Abraham has just invented circumcision and discusses it at length, telling them he will snip their penises. He runs off to get his knife.
Punchline(?): Jack Black and Michael Cera are uncomfortable so they walk away from the camp, deftly avoiding a potentially comic scene. Hilarious!

And so on and so forth for the whole movie. I'm not claiming any of those setups are brilliant or even particularly good, but Year One feels like it goes out of its way to avoid a single genuinely comic scenario. In one way my initial instincts were right: the awkward one-liners from Cera's chronologically displaced George Michael account for almost every semi-amusing moment in the entire picture. In fact, three-quarters of the film's chuckles are in the trailer. I'll go ahead and kill the suspense for you now and tell you that "I never got a sword... I only got the holder." is probably the biggest laugh in the movie.

All in all, the only thing biblical about Year One is how biblically unfunny the whole affair is.

1 Star out of 5

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