Jack Black and Michael Cera are on familiar ground in "Year One," even if their adventure takes place 2,000 years ago.
Judd Apatow didn't coin the term "bromance," but he might as well have. Nor did he write or direct "Year One," the new comedy starring Jack Black and Michael Cera, but the comedy auteur's "brotherly" template definitely laid the groundwork.
Apatow's footprint is everywhere nowadays, whether it's films he directed ("The 40-Year-Old Virgin," "Knocked Up"), ones that he only christened as a producer (including "Year One," "Superbad" and "Step Brothers") or bromances that are just guilty by association ("Role Models," "I Love You, Man").
"Year One" takes the ever-expanding genre into uncharted territory: biblical times.
The set-up might remind you of "Monty Python's Life of Brian," in which two moronic guys bumble their way through ancient times, meeting various figures from the Bible. But the subversive humor of that 1979 religious send-up is not the aim of "Year One." This is simply the story of two dudes being dudes.
After Zed (Black) and Oh (Cera) are banished by their hunter-gatherer tribe for being nincompoops, the two set out to find their own way. They end up in one misadventure after the next -- witnessing Cain murder his brother Abel, barely escaping circumcision at the hands of Abraham, then finding true trouble inside the walls of Sodom. The ancient city of vice is presented to Zed and Oh more like a Las Vegas vacation where "sinners are winners" and "Thursday is the new Friday." This is how much of the film is laid out: Quick-talking Apatowian characters are transported to Bibleland.
The film is directed by Harold Ramis, who made "Caddyshack" and "Groundhog Day" as well as duds such as "Bedazzled" and "Multiplicity." There is a lot to smile at here, but few laugh-out-loud moments. On paper, Ramis and producer Apatow set themselves up for success: The cast is a who's who of funnymen. Unfortunately, the script doesn't give them a whole lot to work with.
As Zed, Black flops about, obviously comfortable in his familiar role as king doofus. Here his long, scraggly hair and furry loincloth make him look like an overweight reject from Mel Gibson's "Apocalypto." The always great Hank Azaria (as Abraham) and Oliver Platt (as a high priest drag queen) relish in the lowbrow humor afforded to them in these roles.
Other comics just come and go. Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who played McLovin in "Superbad," shows up for a cameo playing, well, McLovin. David Cross is typically a cerebral comedian, but his thorny turn as Cain mostly falls flat. The same goes for Apatow regular Paul Rudd, whose quick cameo seems like a wasted opportunity. "Saturday Night Live" alum Horatio Sanz has just enough lines to separate him from the extras.
The bright spot in "Year One" is Cera, who once again leans heavily on the charming geek character he played in "Juno," "Superbad" and "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist." While you'd think this shtick would have gotten old by now, Cera's soft, mumbling retorts feel fresh here. (Black: "You could be my right-hand man." Cera: "I've seen what you do with your right hand. No thank you.")
As a whole, however, "Year One" doesn't give us anything we haven't already seen before in some form or another. It's simply bromance, B.C.
Tom Horgen • 612-673-7909