‘Year One’: The Land That Laughs Forgot, By Kurt Loder

Jack Black and Michael Cera in a world before funny.

Remember [movie id="369697"]“Land of the Lost”[/movie]? The Will Ferrell movie? Came out two weeks ago? Right, that one. Do you think there’s still room in the tank to which that picture was instantly consigned for the new “Year One,” another prehistoricky gagfest with not a gray cell in its tiny noggin? Good dumb comedies, from Jerry Lewis’ “The Bellboy” to Jim Carrey’s “Dumb and Dumber,” have always been a pleasure. This isn’t one of those, though. The movie was directed by Harold Ramis, who’s done some very funny films (think “Groundhog Day”), and it numbers raunch king Judd Apatow among its producers. That might seem a match made in comedy heaven, and you might expect the picture to kill. But it overkills, in an altogether underwhelming way. Even with the customary complement of Apatow veterans on hand — stars [movieperson id="163196"]Jack Black[/movieperson] and [movieperson id="297537"]Michael Cera[/movieperson], with [movieperson id="197473"]Paul Rudd[/movieperson], Bill Hader,

Black and Cera play themselves, essentially: Jack’s a leering cut-up, Michael’s a sensitive dweeb. Their characters are Zed and Oh, proto-dork members of a tribe of hunter-gatherers back in … well, not the Year One, exactly (not by any calendar I know of) — let’s just say way back in the primitive, pre-wheel days of our planet. Zed and Oh long to lie with two tribal hotties, Maya (June Diane Raphael) and Eema (super-cute Juno Temple). The girls rebuff them as losers, though, as does everyone else in their little jungle encampment; and so soon they set out on their own to discover what lies beyond the mountains encircling their little world.

What they find turns out to be the land of Biblical Times. Zed and Oh first come upon the squabbling brothers Cain (David Cross) and Abel (Rudd), and after the former cheerily dispatches the latter (and then claims it was an accident), the guys get to meet Cain’s sister Lilith (Eden Riegel), who’s quite a hottie herself, although, alas, a lesbian. Zed and Oh get sold into slavery and reunite with Maya and Eema, who’ve suffered a similar fate. A detachment of Roman soldiers rides in on chariots. The boys escape and next come upon Abraham (Hank Azaria), the Old Testament gentleman, who’s about to sacrifice (or murder, in modern parlance) his son Isaac (Mintz-Plasse). Zed and Oh intervene, and the grateful Isaac volunteers to lead them to their next destination, the notorious city of Sodom (“where the sinners are winners,” as Isaac eagerly puts it). In Sodom they encounter a blubbery High Priest (Oliver Platt in lipstick, mascara and an overabundance of fake chest hair) and discover that a virgin competition is underway for a rain-making sacrifice. There’s also an enlightened princess (Olivia Wilde), a palace eunuch (Black’s Tenacious D partner Kyle Gass), a gaudy bacchanal (very mild, actually), a dungeon, a stoning (two stones), a “Holy of Holies” and much, much more — stuff just keeps piling up.

The movie’s fundamental joke is that most of the characters speak in a wisecracking modern vernacular. If only comedy were so easy. Very occasionally this conceit pays off, as when the superlative Hank Azaria’s Abraham — a crusader for universal circumcision — insists that “It’s gonna be a very sleek look — this is gonna catch on!” More often, though, we get droopy witticisms like “You know what’s the best thing about Sodom? The sodomy.” And the picture’s desperate, teen-baiting assemblage of fart jokes, d— jokes, poop-nibbling and (a new one, possibly) urine inhalation are a constant reminder that no matter how ancient the setting’s supposed to be, the land of lame Hollywood japery, so mind-numbingly familiar by now, is always near.

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