Two unproductive, incompetent hunters in ancient times are banished from their primitive village. The unlikely pair wander through early biblical civilization encountering historic and religious figures along their comedic journey.

Surely, comedy has evolved beyond this.

The pedigree of talent behind the new comedy Year One is very strong. Between the director Harold Ramis, co-producer Judd Apatow and their two leads, Jack Black and Michael Cera, they have provided hearty guffaws in the comedies Tropic Thunder, School Of Rock, Knocked Up, Juno, the cult-TV series Arrested Development, Groundhog Day, Ghostbusters and Caddyshack.

That between them they could concoct the most laughless, misguided and awful studio comedy in recent memory is quite an achievement, but achieve it they do. From its ill-concieved concept to its timing-free chemistry and embarrassingly-bad characterisations, Year One is a major misfire in every respect.

Caveman Zed (Black, doing his gratingly-smug loser schtick) is a burden to his clan, a spear in the back of a hunt-colleague being his latest faux pas. He is banished from the village, taking with him the wimpy gatherer Oh (Cera), an ineffectual tribesman who is smitten with Eema (Juno Temple). From this point the film essentially becomes a road movie, as the two Neanderthal numbskulls traverse through different time zones and historical periods. There is an utter disregard for creationism/evolution arguments – the cavemen meet Cain (David Cross) and Abel (Paul Rudd), are thrust into the hedonistic pleasures of the Roman empire, are there for the discovery of the wheel, and so it goes.

There is much to dislike about almost everything in Year One – shoddy production values; a flat lifeless colour palette; humour that is mysoginistic, puerile, inane slapstick, take your pick. Accomplished actor-comedians like Hank Azaria, Oliver Platt and our own Gia Carides are asked to pitch their performances at the most extreme level – lisping, limping, mincing, wildly gesticulating to drag something, anything funny out of the turgid material they have to work with.

Who the film is aimed at is also a mystery. The smut and toilet humour would suggest your key 12-20 year-old males, but historical and biblical references that litter the duo’s journey would be lost on that demographic. Why, for example, the extended gag about Cain’s slaying of Abel? Or the confusing mix of east/west religious metaphors about the apple, the Tree of Knowledge and the serpent?

The saddest aspect of this cinematic dung is that it has come along at exactly the wrong point in Michael Cera’s career trajectory. He is a very likable young actor who has developed a great deal of audience goodwill with smart, funny, lovable roles – Arrested Development’s George-Michael, Juno’s Paulie Bleeker, Superbad’s Evan and the titular Nick in the underappreciated, underseen gem Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Michael Cera was ready for the leading man role, to firmly establish himself as the go-to guy for the next decade when the script calls for 'sweet, strong, moral young male’; he was ready to become John Cusack.

With Year One, he has let us all down. Jack Black can churn out dross like this and move on (remember him in Envy, opposite Ben Stiller? See what I mean...), but Cera has sold out, dumbing down the screen persona he had so carefully constructed. I’m not suggesting Year One is such a bad movie because of him, just that his participation is the saddest thing to come from this sorry spectacle.

And I could go on – the annoying Apatow-inspired trait of milking 'the laughs’ by dubbing off-screen punchlines; the embarrassment of once-great English Premier League tough guy Vinnie Jones in a tunic; the establishment of a new lowpoint in my career as a reviewer, as I sat dumbfounded by the sight of Jack Black taste-testing bear manure.

At the half way mark of 2009, Year One has firmly established itself as the front-runner as the year's worst cinema release. God have mercy on us all should a film come along to take its crown away.

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Wed, 12/16/2009 - 11