Year One

Writer and director Harold Ramis has had a lean time of it since the days of Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day, a run that continues with Year One, an epoch-spanning comedy about a couple of Palaeolithic morons who get caught up in a series of scrapes with various Old Testament characters.

Jack Black and Michael Cera play caveman buddies Zed and Oh, literally an old-school double-act composed of obnoxious, zinger-spouting mammoth hunter and meek, straight-man fruit gatherer. When Zed eats a golden apple from a forbidden tree, they are both exiled from their village at the end of a pointy spear. Their quest proper begins when they stumble into the middle of the last argument between Cain and Abel (Cena’s Arrested Development co-star David Cross and Paul Rudd).

Things quickly go from bad to worse when Zed and Oh are sold into slavery and marched across the desert by the imperial Romans, led for some reason by the deeply unamusing Vinnie Jones. They escape their bonds, only to inadvertently intervene during a delicate moment between a sword-wielding Abraham (Hank Azaria) and his timorous son Isaac (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), at the top of a mountain.

From that point on, the story dissolves into a series of skits build around Biblical stories with much unprintable merriment derived from a visit to the notorious city of Sodom. There, the duo's aim is to rescue their slightly more evolved romantic interests, Maya (June Diane Raphael) and Eema (Juno Temple), taken as slave girls by the scheming Princess Inanna (Olivia Wilde).

Flat, broad and unnecessarily scatological, Year One is slow to get going and never quite picks up the kind of pace it needs to carry it forward. There are a few genuinely funny moments; a trip on an ox-driven cart and a discussion about the origins of circumcision, but far more gags fail to find their mark and many scenes seem to end before time or drag unnecessarily.

Although admirably mounted and photographed (with scant use of cheap computer graphics), the same care hasn’t been taken with the script, which draws heavily on Monty Python’s Life of Brian and Mel Brooks’ History of the World Part 1 by way of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby’s 1940s Road To… farces. These are jokes that have been told MCVXX’s of times before and there's little the cast can do to make then fresh again.

The bully Black should creates sparks opposite Cena’s withdrawn nerd but the dynamic doesn’t quite come off. As character comedians, both actors have staled badly; Cena’s drawling dreamer festering into an awkward passive-aggression while Black's energetic charm has been exhausted on almost-funny comedies like, well, like this one.

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