In a prehistoric woodland village, the goof-off Zed (Black) isn't a very good hunter, while the smart-but-shy Oh (Cera) isn't the best gatherer. After breaking the community's one rule, they're banished, heading off over the mountains. There they run into the biblical world, linking up with Cain (the hilariously slippery Cross), Abraham (Azaria) and Isaac (Mintz-Plasse) on the way to Sodom to rescue their enslaved semi-girlfriends (Raphael and Temple).
But a nasty soldier (Jones), scheming princess (Wilde) and flamboyant high priest (Platt) are in their way.
This hodgepodge of random elements from prehistory has a kind of freewheeling charm. There's absolutely no discipline on display from the screenwriters; logic was no consideration at all. And Ramis' direction is equally choppy. Many scenes feel oddly truncated just before the punchlines, leaving the film to lurch awkwardly from scene to scene like a sketch comedy show. Which is essentially what this is, right to the closing credits out-takes.
Black and Cera actually manage to find some real humour in here, as do most supporting cast members. The subtler gags and deranged dialog are much more entertaining than the broad, half-hearted slapstick or the constant stream of bodily fluid jokes. But for every solid laugh, 10 others fall flat. And none of the set pieces are carried to a memorable conclusion.
But there's clearly a much more interesting comedy buried in here somewhere, as the premise touches on how loners feel isolated by society, including the beginnings of an existential quest. ("There must be more to life," says Zed. "I can barely cope with this much," replies Oh.) But the writers seem to think that one joke is enough and move on. They similarly use big issues like justice, sexuality and slavery as mere gags without mining any comic potential.
And as the fragmented plot takes over, the film starts to feel rather tedious.
It's a passable way to spend 97 minutes, but only just.
Run time: 97 mins
In Theaters: Friday 19th June 2009
Box Office USA: $43.3M
Box Office Worldwide: $60.2M
Distributed by: Sony Pictures
Production compaines: Columbia Pictures, Apatow Productions, Ocean Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 15%
Fresh: 25 Rotten: 143
IMDB: 4.9 / 10
Director: Harold Ramis
Screenwriter: Harold Ramis, Gene Stupnitsky, Lee Eisenberg
Starring: Jack Black as Zed, Michael Cera as Oh, Olivia Wilde as Princess Inanna, Oliver Platt as High Priest, David Cross as Cain, Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Isaac, Vinnie Jones as Sargon, Hank Azaria as Abraham, Juno Temple as Eema, June Diane Raphael as Maya, Xander Berkeley as King, Gia Carides as Queen, Kyle Gass as Zaftig the Eunuch, Paul Rudd as Abel, Eden Riegel as Lilith, Harold Ramis as Adam