Jack Black was once at the very top of the blockbuster list. The comedian was banging out hit comedies on the regular and was a pretty massive draw at the box office as well. In recent years he’s been able to recapture some of that earlier magic, but there was one movie on the resume that doesn’t look all that great by comparison. Sometimes though, even the sins of the past should be revisited to see if we missed something in the moment. That’s the case with Year One which hit Netflix on March 1st. Should we check out this nearly-forgotten film?
Year One stars Jack Black and Micheal Cera as Zed and Oh respectively. They are part of a group of hunter-gatherers living around the beginning years when The Bible begins its Old Testament story. Both are wildly out of place amongst their group which is pretty believable because basically Black and Cera are playing themselves just dressed in animal pelts and living in pre-civilized conditions. After Zed eats from a forbidden fruit tree, he and Oh are cast out of the village and embark on an adventure that takes them through multiple Biblical stories, running into some familiar characters along the way. Check out the trailer for Year One:
The movie is very much a fish-out-of-water experience for Jack Black and Michael Cera who are, of course, wholly out of their depths when it comes when it comes to living a primitive lifestyle. Black’s character is an overweight partier who resembles just about every other character the actor has played in the past. And Cera is an ineffectual wimp who longs after a girl in the tribe without knowing exactly how to go about courting her without the brawn of others in the village. Cera, like Black, resembles every other character he’s ever played.
Joining Jack Black and Michael Cera is a who’s who of comedic talent they meet along the way. The two set out on an adventure that puts them in the middle of stories like Cain and Abel (David Cross and Paul Rudd), Abraham (Hank Azaria), and Princess Inanna (Olivia Wilde) in Sodom and Gomorrah. But that’s not all. Also making appearances are Bill Hader, Juno Temple, Horatio Sanz, Paul Scheer, and Harold Ramis who directed. It’s a fantastic cast full of some of the funniest people around.
The tone of Year One is meant to be comedic to the point of farcical with Jack Black, Michael Cera, and all of their friends getting together to basically play themselves with a little dress-up time. The concept is hilarious and the clear point of making these characters in costume only works in theory.
With Jack Black in the driver’s seat and the funniest of funny people around him, Year One should have worked. But it didn’t. It scored a comically low 14% on Rotten Tomatoes though ticked up higher with a 34 Metacritic number. Critics were tough on basically everything from Jack Black and Michael Cera in the lead roles, to the crude jokes, to the flimsy and winding premise. Words like “brain-dead”. “depressing”, “lumpy” and “self-conscious” were thrown around with ease. Frankly, it feels a little overly harsh and the film may have been (possibly fairly) held to a higher standard than other similar comedies.
But fans of the actors couldn’t get on board either. Year One barely earned back its $60 million budget with $62 million at the box office. That is nothing short of a massive box office bomb for the studio and not at all indicative of how Jack Black, at the time, was able to draw for theaters. A few years later he’d go on to score solidly with Goosebumps and then in a huge way with the Jumanji reboots. Though this film doesn’t look great on the resume.
But like I said, I think critics were a bit too harsh on Year One. If you are a fan of Jack Black and Michael Cera at all, this movie does play. It’s because they are just cast as themselves in a silly story that harkens back to some Biblical themes. Is it great? No, but it wasn’t meant to be either. Its goal was to be silly, something of a stoner comedy (with real stonings, not actually getting stoned). If you approach it with that in mind, then it’s fine for a Netflix watch. But expecting anything more will leave you disappointed.