Harold Ramis's new comedy of prehistoric times, Year One, manages to achieve something rare and special that only, literally two other movies that I can think of after some fair amount of reflection,* have ever achieved. It's not a good thing. Year One is a motion picture comedy at which I did not laugh one single time. Perhaps that doesn't mean much: I'm not exactly a cheap date when it comes to comedies, and there have been plenty of films and sitcoms that I've found altogether dreary at moments when around me, people were laughing out loud, sometimes with great chortling lust. But on the other hand, as I look back over the last few years as I've been doing this blogging thing, there have been some truly rancid comedies here and there, and not a single one of them left me without one solitary laugh: not Good Luck Chuck, not The Love Guru, not the wholly evil Because I Said So meets this exacting criterion. Theoretically, this means that Year One is the most unfunny comedy I have ever reviewed on this blog.

Practically, that's not quite the case: though I never once laughed, there were decent number of moments where a vague smile flickered on my lips, and by that standard at least it's an improvement over the very worst of the worst. But we're really starting to split hairs at this point.

Year One is not, for the record, set in 1 CE, nor the first year of Hebraic reckoning; it is best to keep things simple by describing the setting as "during the book of Genesis" and being done with it. It doesn't matter anyway; this is a broad summer comedy, not a rabbinical tract. Right, so the film starts in a forest village of fur-wearing hunter-gatherers, and the two we care about are Zed (Jack Black), the worst of all the hunters, and Oh (Michael Cera), a very shy but competent gatherer who is seemingly the only male in the village who's not a hunter. Both of these fellows are generally looked down upon, and the day finally comes when Zed is tired of being thought a useless fatty moron, so he eats the fruit of the forbidden Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and manages to get himself promptly banished; after he accidentally burns down Oh's hut, the younger man joins him.

Their journey takes them into the land that future history will know as Israel, where they first meet Cain (David Cross) and Abel (Paul Rudd, wisely appearing uncredited); later to cross paths with Abraham (Hank Azaria) and Isaac (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) just in time to stop the boy's sacrifice; and eventually, chasing two beautiful women from their old tribe who were captured into slavery, Maya (June Diane Raphael) and Eema (Juno Temple), end up in Sodom, the city on the plain where licentiousness runs rampant, the princess (Olivia Wilde) takes Zed to be the Chosen One of the Gods, and the corrupt high priest (Oliver Platt), a man with a thick wig of chest hair, makes leering passes at Oh.

Be careful, now, because I'm about to spoil the movie completely. During the course of their adventures, Zed and Oh use modern speech patterns in keeping with each actor's established persona, while talking about technology, events and places referred to in 3000-year-old texts. Often, they run across people who also speak like contemporary people, but are talking about the earliest period of Middle Eastern civilisation. Not a spoiler, you say? That's right there in the trailer, you say? Ay, I reply, but that is well and truly the entirety of the movie, top to bottom and front to back. So in describing that aspect of the film, I have given away everything there is to give away in the film. Oh, and the copious scatology, but you surely could have guessed that.

Here is the other black secret of Year One: that single gag, which the filmmakers hump over and over again over 97 long minutes with the enthusiasm of a horny bulldog, doesn't work. There's no reason it necessarily shouldn't; Kung Fu Panda wasn't much other than "a panda says things like Jack Black" and it was charming, so why "a caveman says things like Jack Black" should be so utterly without merit is a mystery to me. But oh, good Lord, watching Black and Cera goofy costumes and joke around about things like round wheels or slave markets or circumcision (one of the least awful parts of the movie, if I'm being honest) or whatehaveyou, it's about as funny as watching them darning socks. No, I take that back, I think either of those men could make darning socks look pretty damn amusing. At any rate, Cera and Black at least have no small amount of chemistry with each other, despite their totally incompatible styles. But that doesn't mean that either one of them approaches their character with much energy at all, instead just contentedly sleepwalking through yet another Jack Black character and yet another Michael Cera character. Back in the '30s and '40s, Cary Grant played a whole hell of a lot of Cary Grant characters, but this never happened to him.

It's hard to say if the film is trying to be satiric or "about something" at all. There are numerous gags that poke fun at the contemporary situation surrounding the country of Israel, but so loosely structured that I can't even tell if they're meant to be at Israel's expense, or if they're ribbing Israel from a pro-Israeli stance, or what. And you'd assume that the film's free-form hodgepodge of elements from Genesis has some kind of significance, and perhaps you'd be right: let me know if you figure out what that significance is, because God knows I can't. Of course, theme and meaning aren't as important to a comedy, when it can spend its time flinging out one shockingly retrograde gay panic joke out after another.

This I can and shall say for Year One: it is handsomely mounted, with fine, detailed sets and costumes throughout, looking far more convincing and well-planned than most if not, I daresay, all prehistoric comedies that have littered the cinematic landscape stretching back into the silent era. And the cinematographer by an individual named Alar Kivilo (whose career has made him uniquely suited to becoming "the DP of Year One" is of a generally lovelier pitch than was probably required, but some of the Sodom interiors particularly are quite pleasing to look at. So, yeah, I basically just praised the production design and the interior lighting, and when that's what you've got to praise a movie, you're taking on water rather badly.

It's just so freaking bored and disinterested, especially the leads, giving the worst performances of either of their careers, and nothing can save a comedy from that sort of stuff. I found it perfectly and without exception, unamusing, and while it is said that comedy is subjective, I can't imagine any yardstick by which this isn't a pile of dog shit.

*The other two films are 1962's Invasion of the Star Creatures and 1969's truly enervating Can Hieronymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness?