It had to happen eventually. It has been five years since The Passion of the Christ brought the Bible epic back to the big screen, and nearly four since Judd Apatow began producing and directing a string of raunchy comedies—a few of which, such as the musical pseudo-biopic Walk Hard, have dabbled explicitly in genre parody. It was only a matter of time before Apatow or someone like him turned their attention to the religious epic, and the result is Year One, a buddy comedy that takes a relentlessly lowbrow look at the Book of Genesis.
Written and directed by Harold Ramis, who had small roles in Walk Hard and Knocked Up but may be best known as the director of Caddyshack and Groundhog Day, the new film takes at least some of its ideas from non-biblical sources, too. The story centers on two men who are expelled from a village of prehistoric hunter-gatherers, and if the film as a whole is tapping into a trend that began with The Passion, then the opening scenes bring another Mel Gibson movie, Apocalypto, to mind, as one of those men takes part in a wild boar hunt.
Alas, the man in question, Zed (Jack Black), is a tad clumsy and has a habit of spearing his fellow villagers rather than the animal that they are pursuing—but this is not what gets him expelled from the village. Instead, he breaks "the rules" when he goes to the Tree of Knowledge and eats some of its forbidden fruit, hoping the fruit will make him smarter. For this and other transgressions, Zed is sent into exile, and he is joined by his reluctant best friend Oh (Michael Cera), a shy, timid gatherer who talks to the berries he picks.
Thus begins their journey into the early chapters of Genesis. Two of the first people Zed and Oh meet are Cain (David Cross) and his brother Abel (Paul Rudd), and the ensuing conversation annoys Cain so much that he kills Abel right then and there. Feeling guilty—though that doesn't stop him from pounding a rock into his brother's face whenever Abel stirs—Cain runs away from home and takes Zed and Oh with him. One thing leads to another and they all end up in Sodom, but not before Zed and Oh have had a chance to meet Abraham (Hank Azaria) and his son Isaac (Christopher Mintz-Plasse).
Along the way, people talk about God every now and then, but his role in the story is rather diminished; indeed, where the Bible ascribes certain actions to God, the film consistently ascribes them to regular people (except for one lightning bolt, the timing of which may point to a higher cause). It is not God but Zed's fellow villagers who expel him for eating the forbidden fruit; it is not God but Adam (Ramis) whose questions prompt Cain to complain that he isn't Abel's "keeper"; and it is not God who saves Isaac from being sacrificed at the last minute but Zed and Oh, who stumble onto the scene just as Abraham is raising his knife.
In addition, the biblical characters we meet are typically made to look rather arrogant, loony or both. Cain may be a murderer, but Abel seems a bit smug when he talks about being God's favorite; Adam casually invites one of his guests to "lay" with his daughter, and his son Seth (Gabriel Sunday) is inordinately fond of sheep; and while an embarrassed Abraham does back down from sacrificing Isaac, he later announces that God has told him to cut off a piece of every man's penis, including those of his guests—but don't worry, he'll serve refreshments afterwards. Zed and Oh take this as their cue to go far, far away.