Movie review by Greg Carlson
Despite inviting comparisons from critics partial to Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Dekalog,” the strange anthology movie “The Ten” offers enough outrageous gags and sly wit to qualify as one of the year’s most audacious comedies. Created by members of comedy troupe the State, “The Ten” presents a series of shorts riffing on the biblical rulebook inscribed on those famous tablets toted by Moses. Thankfully, Charlton Heston is nowhere in sight, leaving a seasoned cast of contemporary comic firebrands to throw all sorts of ideas at the wall to see which might stick. Like so many movies comprised of segmented vignettes, not everything in “The Ten” works. Viewers partial to vulgar, smart, off-the-wall jokes will split over which sections work the best, and the movie is sure to be more successful on DVD, which allows for skipping over the dead weight.
“The Ten” gets off to a rocky start by introducing a narrator played by the typically sublime Paul Rudd, whose job it is to provide context and set-up for each of the shorts. Co-screenwriters Ken Marino (who appears in the movie as a surgeon with a criminally poor sense of humor) and David Wain (who also directs) fail to ground Rudd’s character until rather late in the proceedings, which makes the first several times we see him land with a series of thuds. The first segment, in which a stupid skydiver (Adam Brody) suffers an accident that turns him into a national celebrity, struggles to capitalize on its central conceit. Thematically, movies like “Network” and “Being There” have done it better.
Several of the next segments improve on the movie’s chief gimmick. Librarian Gretchen Mol travels to Mexico, where her mind is blown by a passionate handyman named Jesus Christ (Justin Theroux). A bouncy animated segment concerning the consequences of a truth-stretching rhino initially seems out of place, but ends up keeping with the odd spirit of the movie. In what is arguably the film’s most biting story, a prison inmate played by Rob Corddry finds himself deeply attracted to the “wife” of another felon.
Several of the stories are a bit tired, even if they manage to elicit some laughs. A mother played by Kerri Kenney-Silver hires a marginal Arnold Schwarzenneger impersonator (Oliver Platt) to play father to her grown sons. Winona Ryder is both believable and clearly enjoying herself as a woman who develops a major attraction to a ventriloquist’s dummy. In a bit that would have played better as a brief TV sketch, two neighbors attempt to best each other in a battle to acquire expensive medical equipment.
It is difficult to speculate whether the movie would have been improved had it jettisoned the story introduction device, which gets old rather fast. When Rudd’s character finally appears outside of the nearly empty stage from which he has delivered the bridging material, his scene with Famke Janssen hints at a better use for his screen time. It is unlikely that the content of “The Ten” will place it in the company of the creators’ “Wet Hot American Summer,” but it does exude the feeling that multiple viewings will isolate and pinpoint some tremendous laughs.
This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 9/17/07.