If Harold Ramis' "Year One" were a bowling match, it would lurch between gutter balls and spares, with some scattered lucky strikes. Despite the key image of rotund Jack Black and willowy Michael Cera in animal skins, it's not a cave dweller comedy like "Caveman." It's a romp through the early chapters of the Bible with Zed (Black) and Oh (Cera), who are forced to leave their primitive village when Zed eats fruit from the Tree of Knowledge.
At best, it's a bit like Mel Brooks' "The History of the World: Part I" (except Ramis stops somewhere in Genesis); at worst, it's like a "Scary Movie"- type parody of John Huston's "The Bible." Black's Zed is a Brooksian figure, all wiliness and appetite, while Cera is more like an elongated Woody Allen, intelligent but strangled in a continuing tussle between his erupting id and his feelings of inadequacy. These two share a loopy chemistry and affection that's disarming. They keep the movie likable, even when it stumbles all over the place and then gets stuck in Sodom.
Director Ramis, who sketched out the story and co-wrote the script, also brings infantile gross-out gags to new lows - he traces bodily function gags to their historical source. The film's wild swings from college humor to low-down whimsy wouldn't give an audience whiplash if Ramis had more style as a moviemaker.
The main joke of the jarring Cain and Abel scene is that Abel proves as hard to kill as Rasputin; the minor joke for fans of the Judd Apatow Gang is that an uncredited Paul Rudd plays Abel. Since the movie verges on being too hip and smug about its secular humanism, it comes as a relief that some divine power still sears "the mark of Cain" into the murderer's forehead. Ultimately, "Year One" is a hit-or-miss film that basically makes the Promised Land and its surroundings as slaphappy as " Land of the Lost." PLOT Two guys wander through the Book of Genesis.
CAST Jack Black, Michael Cera, Oliver Platt
PLAYING AT Area theaters
BOTTOM LINE Director Harold Ramis' comedy is uneven, although Black and Cera are fun to watch.