I can't think of any book less funny that the Old Testament. Maybe that's the point. In Year One, writer/director Harold Ramis plays it for laughs, with generally uncomfortable results. We see Cain (a disappointing David Cross) killing golden boy Abel (an un-credited Paul Rudd) in cold blood; Abraham (an admittedly amusing Hank Azaria) nearly sacrificing Isaac (the kid who played McLovin) to the almighty, then deciding to simply snip off the end of the boy's penis instead; and numerous virgins sacrificed to a flaming pit in the decadent city of Sodom. All of which are funnier than Jack Black putting poo in his mouth, which also happens in Year One.
Perhaps Ramis has wanted to skewer the Old Testament since his bar mitzvah, and to his credit it's a bravely ambitious task that falls well outside the boundaries of Hollywood convention. But Year One is an unholy (pardon the pun) mess of a movie that would have played best as a series of loosely related sketches—like something Mel Brooks or Monty Python would have done. Unfortunately, a dim, hopeless plot threads Black and Michael Cera through all these different scenarios from the Good Book, and their "character development" and "personal journeys" butt up unwelcomed against the gags. There's also a lot of God talk—which, given the source material, is appropriate—but the movie tries to lob a few easy answers at the audience toward the end, and it just further stinks up an already stinky movie.
There are a few bright spots. Oliver Platt plays an effeminate-yet-hairy priest in Sodom, in what has got to be one of the most over-the-top, outrageous, and hilarious portrayals I've ever seen in any movie. He can't be onscreen for more than 10 minutes, but those 10 minutes almost—almost—warrant the ticket price. There's also a sequence where an enslaved Cera is painted gold and forced to be a human statue during an orgy; his lack of immobility wrings out a few laughs.
Aaaand then there's Jack. I'll admit I like Jack Black more than most. Remember how good he was in that small role in High Fidelity? Remember how his supporting part was a welcome ray of sunshine in the clusterfuck of Tropic Thunder? But Black's transition from reliably funny sidekick to abrasive leading man is still puzzling; a little Black goes a long way, and there's a lot of him in Year One.
Harold Ramis has had a hand in some seriously great comedies—Caddyshack, Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day—but, lest we forget, he was also responsible for Club Paradise and Stuart Saves His Family. Year One might be better than either of those movies, but not by much. It's possible that years of television and DVD will be kind to this biblical romp's future—but until you can fast forward directly to the Oliver Platt highlights, and skip over Jack Black putting feces in his mouth, there isn't any need to travel back to Year One.