The stakes are pretty high for the 2009 Harold Ramis comedy Year One. When you hear that the creator of Ghostbusters is directing Jack Black and Michael Cera in a Biblical buddy movie about a road trip to Canaan, you can't help conjuring History of the World, Part I-esque images of epic, instant-classic comedy status. And, unfortunately, Year One is hardly that. It's muddled and scattershot, and somebody's eating poo within 20 minutes of the opening credits. But it's also funny -- sometimes really funny -- mostly thanks to the crack team of comedic pros who make up the movie's extensive cast.
Black and Cera play Zed and Oh, a barbarian odd couple who just don't fit in with the tribe. Their lack of traditional hunting and gathering skills (and their distinctly 20th century sense of Gen-X self-awareness about all the silly rituals and taboos) soon gets them kicked out of their home village, so they set off on a journey toward Egypt, which they hear is awesome. Of course, along the way they encounter Cain and Abel (David Cross and Paul Rudd), Abraham and Isaac (Hank Azaria and Christopher Mintz-Plasse), and assorted other Biblical and Biblical-style characters, before detouring to Sodom for some sort of business about rescuing their two love interests. And some butt jokes.
The movie doesn't do itself many favors with the writing, which often loses steam even after truly hilarious moments (many of which involve Oliver Platt, who may be the best thing in the movie next to Bill Hader's bit in the gag reel during the closing credits). But it should be said that Black and Cera's chemistry is just as priceless as the filmmakers were no doubt hoping, throwing off sparks in a smelting of facetious irony and extended poop jokes. Of course, they each play to type, but like the great comic duos of history, they're greater than the sum of their parts.
Both of the stars find seemingly impossible potential in moments of what would otherwise be totally played-out humor (nobody can bring freshness to a sodomy joke like Jack Black), but the actors can't propel the movie on their own. The heroes' quest is nominally supposed to be about Zed's search for the meaning of life (figuring out just what it means to be "chosen"), but Ramis never uses this theme to build a sly commentary about faith and religion. He never really uses it for anything; it's just a pretext for the jokes, like the obligatory heroic mission to save a girl. And nobody's saying Ramis has to do anything -- he helped write Ghostbusters, he can do what he wants -- but it smarts a little to think that Year One could have been that great, but fell short. Like a million other movies, it's still worth watching, but it won't make it into the canon.