Year One is this summer's The Love Guru, this weekend's Land of the Lost.
It's a throwback to the "star comedy," the days when hit movies were outlandish farces built around larger-than-life comics playing broad, cartoonish characters. As all of America lines up for another weekend of The Hangover — the latest romp to feature no real stars playing believable characters behaving badly — a star comedy feels star-crossed and out of date.
This hunter-gatherer giggle is part satire, part Bathroom Practices of the Bible.
Jack Black and Michael Cera are the stars, a pairing that works well enough because of their contrasting styles. Black is old-school big as Zed, an incompetent "hunter" who isn't subtle about tasting fresh feces to find out how long ago a group of humans passed. Cera (Juno, Superbad, Arrested Development) plays Oh, doing his sensitive weakling shtick. He's a gatherer.
Neither guy really fits in their tribe, neither has any chance of "getting the girl." And when Zed tastes the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge (it doesn't make him smarter), Zed and Oh are banished, setting off on their own, past "the end of the world" as they know it. And that's where things turn biblical.
They stumble into short-tempered Cain (David Cross, a hoot) as he's bashing his brother Abel and hiding the crime.
They stop the religious fanatic Abraham (Hank Azaria, funny as always) as he's about to sacrifice his son Isaac (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, whiney as ever). Alas, Zed and Oh are too busy saving their own skins to prevent Abraham from inventing circumcision.
And then they're off to Sodom, which sounds swell in the travel brochures but turns out to be a town of violence and virgin sacrifice. They learn that the tribeswomen they longed for (Juno Temple and June Diane Raphael) have been kidnapped and are in line to be killed by the furry-sissy high priest (Oliver Platt).
Black works for his "big boned" laughs — doing the eyebrow thing, shaking his money maker to entice the hot Princess of Sodom (Olivia Wilde). Cera doesn't let the fact that he wears a loincloth throw him off his hangdog "She doesn't know I exist" game.
Look for cameos by members of comedy's "Frat Pack" — Black's Tenacious D partner, a star of I Love You, Man, a Saturday Night Live cast-member in blackface as a village shaman.
Co-writer/director Harold Ramis has a cameo as Cain's suspicious dad — you know the name. Ramis is Caddyshack old-school and was going for something Mel Brooks would have been proud to call his own — a little lewd, a little crude, a little Hebrewed.
That makes Year One, for all its shock laughs (not that many), toilet jokes and post-Apatow vulgarisms, kind of quaint.
In a comic era of baby masturbation gags, simulated sex with tigers and the other consequences of a Hangover, quaint would be a relief if Year One had turned out funnier.