Year One Mashes Up Creation, Covenant and Cain and Abel
- Friday, June 19, 2009
DVD Release Date: October 6, 2009
Theatrical Release Date: June 19, 2009
Rating: PG-13 (for crude and sexual content throughout, brief strong language and comic violence)
Run Time: 97 min.
Director: Harold Ramis
Actors: Jack Black, Michael Cera, Oliver Platt, David Cross, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Vinnie Jones, Hank Azaria, Juno Temple, Olivia Wilde, June Diane Raphael, Paul Rudd
Despite its title, Year One, a new comedy from producer Judd Apatow and writer/director Harold Ramis, is not a retelling of the biblical Creation story and the events immediately thereafter. Yes, there's a Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and some forbidden fruit, but that's just a springboard for an episodic comedy that compresses several stories from the book of Genesis that span many, many years.
Year One is not the story of Adam and Eve but of Zed and Oh (Jack Black and Michael Cera, respectively), a primordial tale of male friendship with the requisite fart jokes and sexual boasting that characterizes modern tales in the same genre.
The two buddies offset each other's weaknesses. Zed is brash and egocentric, a hunter who's more adept at accidentally hitting human targets than he is in felling animal prey. Oh gathers fruit to feed the men, but bemoans his role. He wants something more from life, starting with Eema (Juno Temple), the tribe babe who won't give Oh the time of day. Zed also has certain male longings, and he hopes Maya (June Diane Raphael) can fulfill them.
The inept Zed, seeking a leg up over his competitors for Maya's affection, partakes of some forbidden fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil ("it tastes knowledgy," he remarks after his first bite), leading to banishment from his village. Oh joins him, and the two embark on a journey. They meet Cain (David Cross) and Abel (Paul Rudd), and watch as the brothers' squabbles escalate into attempted murder, which is then attempted again and again, until Cain finishes the job. They stay at the home of Adam (Ramis), Cain's father (in this telling of the biblical story, it's Adam and not God who accuses Cain of the killing), and Adam's other offspring, including Seth, who does not get the same respect from Ramis that he gets from the author of Genesis—to put it mildly.
The duo next encounters Abraham (Hank Azaria) just as he's about to sacrifice his son, Isaac (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) (Zed has the ram's role in this telling, staying the hand of Abraham), but they subsequently shy away from Abraham's insistence that they be circumcised.
Zed, increasingly convinced that God has chosen him for a special task, travels with Oh toward Sodom, allowing for multiple jokes about male sex. (Oh: "I think I have sand in my a--." Zed: "Maybe I'll take a look at it when we get to Sodom.")
If that's your kind of humor, Year One is for you, but its irreverence is often joined with sexual humor that will offend viewers who think certain subject matter is out of bounds. For instance, the lust-driven Zed at one point rhymes "Holy of Holies" with a graphic description of the male sex organ. Circumcision, orgies and virgin sacrifices are also part of the humor in Year One.
What isn't part of the package is any orthodox idea about God. Zed hedges his bets throughout the film, praying to "Almighty God … or gods." He's not sure how many deities there might be, or how they should be addressed, although he scoffs when Maya questions whether God might be female.
The episodic film tries to conclude with a takeaway point, but the best it come up with is Zed's declaration that although he's not specially chosen by God, "maybe we're all chosen" and can "make our own destiny." That universalistic, self-centered message is nearly as gag-inducing as the "ARK: Acts of Random Kindness" message that ends Evan Almighty, a previous big-budget, Bible-based comedy that tried hard to be family friendly but which watered down its humor and theology to the point where the film was perceived as a critical and financial failure.
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