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August 6, 2007 |

By John Williams | Film | August 6, 2007 |

For really old stone tablets that featured fairly obvious rules for good behavior, the Ten Commandments have been strong influences on filmmakers. Most notably, they moved Cecil B. DeMille to cast Charlton Heston as Moses and they provided the foundation for Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Decalogue, a series of short films, each pegged to one of the edicts from Mount Sinai.

In The Ten, writer-director David Wain takes Kieslowski’s approach, except where the Polish master was interested in a subtle examination of human nature and contemporary morality, Wain is drawn to scenes of prison rape and women losing their virginity to Jesus.

Wain was part of the absurdist comedy team that created the show “The State,” and all his old cronies are here, joined by several bigger-name actors (Winona Ryder, Paul Rudd, Liev Schreiber, Jessica Alba, Famke Janssen, and more). Rudd introduces the stories. He first
appears in front of a black screen and a giant computer-generated image of the commandments, makes a forced joke or two, and generally gives the feeling that you’re in for a really long night. Luckily, things improve.

The first sketch involves a young man (Adam Brody) who forgets his parachute while skydiving and lands buried up to his neck in the middle of a field. He’s alive, but if he moves at all, he’ll die. He becomes an instant star, and the movie miraculously manages to parody celebrity culture in a fresh way. It’s a silly start, but perfectly representative of an uneven project that fully commits to one asinine premise after another. It wouldn’t be right to give away specific jokes, but the broad highlights include Schreiber and Joe Lo Truglio as competitive neighbors who race to buy more CAT scan machines than the other and ruin their lives in the process; Ryder as a woman who falls passionately (very passionately) in love with a ventriloquist’s dummy; and Ken Marino as a surgeon who leaves scissors inside a patient and insists he’s innocent of murder because he did it intentionally, “as a goof.”

Marino co-wrote the movie and appears in a few sketches, and between this and his standout work in the little-seen Diggers earlier this year, I’m starting to think he’s one of our more underutilized acting talents. His character appears more than once, in a variety of tones, and he nails them all.

The Ten is ultimately just a flimsy excuse to air 90 minutes of sketches, and like any sketch comedy show, it’s wildly hit or miss. Rudd’s character has his moments, but the role is unnecessary and awkward. The movie would have been shorter and much improved if it just rolled out the shorts without the conceit of a tour guide. The hits make it worth seeing, but whether or not that means a trip to the theater or a wait for the DVD depends on how much you miss this troupe, or how badly you want to see Ryder risk getting some nasty splinters for the sake of her art.

John Williams lives in Brooklyn. He’s a freelance writer. He blogs at A Special Way of Being Afraid.

Thou Shalt Not Make Out with Ventriloquist Dummies

The Ten / John Williams

Film | August 6, 2007 |

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