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Josh Reviews Year One

I love Harold Ramis.  For his performance as Egon Spengler in Ghostbusters (and Ghostbusters 2) alone, the man deserves to be recognized as a comic genius.  When you also consider his involvement in films such as Animal House, Caddyshack, Stripes, Groundhog Day, Anaylze This, and so many more, then you have to realize what an impact he has had on film comedies over the past 30 years.

And yet, it seems like Mr. Ramis has fallen out of the spotlight in the aughts.  He’s had some great (albeit small) acting roles (in Orange County, Knocked Up, and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story), but none of the films he has directed recently have made much of an impact: Bedazzled (in 2000), Anaylze That (the misbegotten sequel to Analyze This from 2002), and The Ice Harvest (in 2005) all came and went without much fanfare.

So I was very excited when I read, last year, that Mr. Ramis was hooking up with Jack Black and quite a few members of the Judd Apatow comedy troupe (Michael Cera, Paul Rudd, Christopher Mintz-Plasse) as well as a number of other very funny people (Oliver Platt, David Cross, Hank Azaria) for the Biblical-comedy Year One.

For a movie crafted by so many talented folks, though, the result is surprisingly mediocre.  Oh, it’s funny, don’t get me wrong.  There are plenty of big laughs.  But there are also plenty of scenes that are very flat, with few if any laughs at all.  And, even of the jokes that work, a lot of the humor of the film feels rather tame, rather familiar.  Stacked up against the great comedies of the past few years (mostly from the Apatow brand) like The 40 Year Old Virgin, Superbad, Knocked Up, etc. etc., — comedies that took your breath away they were so funny, and, even more than that, felt like original, unique works, very different from any movie comedies that you’d ever seen before — Year One pales in comparison.

My biggest joy in watching the film came from sitting back and watching the great cast at play.  Oliver Platt, in particular, is just marvelously loony as Sodom’s High Priest.  I was also pleasantly surprised by the amount of screen-time that the great David Cross (who plays Cain) got.  I didn’t expect him to reappear after the early scene with his brother Abel (Paul Rudd), so I was pleased by his large role in the second half of the film.  I should also mention Xander Berkeley (George Mason from the early days of 24) who is just terrific as the King, and Vinnie Jones (a familiar face from Guy Ritchie’s films) as the menacing soldier Sargon.  (I had to look up his character’s name on imdb.)

Year One is a funny film, and I enjoyed it.  But I had expected much more.  It’s not quite the triumphant return to grace for Harold Ramis that I had been anticipating.

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