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The Ten

Woefully Conceived, Poorly Executed “Comedy”

Written by Ken Marino and David Wain (and directed by Wain), The Ten is an uneven collection of sub-par comedy skits, masquerading as vignettes, centered on the Ten Commandments. As the title suggests, each commandment gets its own standalone vignette, but each story gets introduced by an onscreen narrator, Jeff (Paul Rudd), standing in front of two huge stone slabs carved with the Ten Commandments.

As Jeff introduces each vignette, he can’t help but get confessional with the audience. His marriage to Gretchen (Famke Janssen), is all but over. Jeff has turned to the younger Liz (Jessica Alba) for physical and emotional comfort. Eventually Gretchen discovers the affair and leaves him. Jeff, of course, begins to doubt the wisdom of his decision.

While Jeff eventually slips into the vignette about adultery, the other commandments each get their due, beginning with a vignette about a man, Stephen (Adam Brody), who miraculously survives jumping out of a plane without a parachute, but who, as a consequence, can’t be dislodged from the ground. At first, his fiancée, Kelly (Winona Ryder), goes with the flow, especially when, Jeff becomes a media celebrity. An agent, Fielding Barnes (Ron Silver), sets him up with his own television show, “Going Nowhere”, but Stephen’s fame and fortune don’t last long.

The second vignette follows an uptight librarian, Gloria Jennings (Gretchen Mol), who takes an extended holiday in Mexico. There, she learns to unwind with the help of a local handyman named, appropriately enough, Jesus (Justin Theroux). To say more, however, would be to spoil what’s easily the funniest and, thus, the best vignette. Suffice it to say that Gloria gets more than she bargained for when she becomes romantically involved with Jesus, but like all good things, her summer vacation has to end and she has to return to former life as a librarian and the amorous advances of another employee, Oliver (A.D. Miles).

In a vignette centered on the “coveting your neighbor’s goods” commandment, Ron (Liev Schreiber) becomes green with envy when he spots a delivery truck outside his neighbor’s house. The neighbor has just purchased a super-expensive CAT scan machine. Ron, of course, doesn’t want to be left behind, so he buys his own CAT scan machine. His neighbor, in turn, buys another machine, putting an arms race of sorts into motion, until Ron’s family begins to doubt his sanity. Unfortunately, this particular vignette ends lamely with a comedic payoff that’s poorly handled. And on and on The Ten goes, until all Ten Commandments have been exhausted.

The Ten is often crude, vulgar, repulsive, sophomoric, and insulting. The jokes and gags are so scattershot that it’s easy to imagine Wain and Marino sitting around after smoking a bowl jotting down everything that comes out of their herb-addled minds and thinking all of it was brilliant. Okay, to be fair, several vignettes are solidly written and executed. Unfortunately, they also contain all of the good jokes and gags. The other vignettes range from the forgettable to the abysmal. Here’s a note to Mr. Wain and Mr. Marino: prison rape humor was stale ten years ago, but when an entire vignette is constructed around a character (played by Mr. Marino no less) that gets beaten and raped repeatedly (offscreen thankfully) it isn’t remotely amusing. It’s profoundly offensive.

With so much going against it, it’s hard not to wonder why so many name actors and actresses agreed to appear in The Ten? Check out these names: Jessica Alba, Paul Rudd, Famke Janssen, Gretchen Mol, Winona Rider, Liev Schreiber, Oliver Platt, Ron Silver, and Adam Brody. Were they short on cash and unwilling to take a role on a television show, straight-to-DVD feature, or informercial? Or were the screenwriters’ friends of theirs? Whatever the reason, it couldn’t have been the underwritten screenplay or the let’s-get-together-and-jam-for-love finale that has the actors singing or playing a musical instrument in mock joy. Judging by the results onscreen, no one involved in making The Ten knew either.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars