Year One joins Land of the Lost in the category of "Movies I thought would suck way worse than they did but ended up not being quite so mega sucky as they should have been." Huh, I really should get a shorter name for that category. Non-Sucks Not-Quites, something like that, especially if The Awful Truth ends up not being bottom-of-the-barrel quality.
Anyway, Year One and Land of the Lost were both so thoroughly, utterly trashed by critics that, for me, the bar was set so low for both that I wasn't expecting to enjoy a single minute of either film. When I did end up laughing a few times or liking certain elements, it was slay the fatted calf/break out the champagne and party hats time when compared to what I was expecting to happen.
Year One is a Judd Apatow produced-Harold Ramis directed extremely low brow comedy. Really, the brow is somewhere below the chin as far as Year One is concerned. Technically it shouldn't even be called Year One since it takes place in pre-Christian times. In fact, the time period can't really be determined since it shows two guys named Zed and Oh (Jack Black and Michael Cera) who leave their hunter-gatherer tribe and meet Cain and Abel and Abraham before finally finishing the movie up in the city of Sodom.
One of the problems with the movie is that it suffers from what I like to call Vince Vaughn Disease. This happens when the dialogue of the lead characters sounds like it was mostly improvised by the actors. This isn't necessarily a bad thing since most of this movie's laughs (as well as the laughs in Vince Vaughn's most recent attempts at comedy) come from these improvisations.
The movie opens with Zed, an incompetent hunter, ends up stabbing one of his fellow tribesmen with his spear after he throws it at a boar. Oh, a gatherer, is much better at gathering than Zed is at hunting but he gets no respect for that in a village that reveres hunters, especially the very tough and strong Marlak (former NFL player Matthew Willig). Marlak is Zed's chief rival for the affections of Maya (June Raphael). Poor Zed can't compete with Marlak who frequently presents Maya with the heads of the boars he kills as gifts (he even leaves the tongue in). Oh is in love with Eema (Juno Temple), a cute blond who only has eyes for the burly hunters in the village. Zed advises Oh to simply apply the standard caveman stereotype of knocking Eema over the head and dragging her back to his hut, a plan that fails when she hits him back. While not all the humorous, I think it still qualifies as the funniest attempted rape in the history of cinema.
Zed decides to change their fortunes by eating the forbidden fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Their fortunes do change when Zed is banished from the village for that and Oh has to go too when he stops Marlak from killing Zed.
Then the fun, or lack of it, really begins. The movie is a case study of how not to make a vulgar, low brow comedy. There's a scene where Jack Black literally eats shit. I'm trying to think of a movie that had a funny shit eating scene in it and none are coming to mind. Why? Because it's so completely disgusting that it would take a great deal of artful movie making to infuse it with enough comic value to make something like that funny. Maybe Martin Scorcese or Quentin Tarantino could pull it off but, for reasons only they could explain, they have so far not attempted a humorous scene in which one of their characters eats shit. There's also a scene that goes on forever in which Michael Cera, hanging by his feet while imprisoned, ends up pissing on his own face. Again, truly great directors like Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola have always passed on face-pissing scenes but Harold Ramis thought he'd give it a go. I haven't even mentioned all the gay jokes or the endless allusions to animal rape. Oh, not all of the low brow stuff fails. When Zed and Oh meet Abraham, they run when Abraham claims God has revealed to him that all men must cut their foreskins off.
My verdict on this is that the funny stuff is not only beaten out by the unfunny stuff but that the funny stuff is kicked in the teeth by the unfunny stuff so much that the funny stuff will never be able to eat corn again.
Still, it was better than Transformers. Yes Michael Bay, a movie where a guy eats shit is better than the shit you made us eat. Deal with it.