Ten, The (United States, 2007)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

The Ten is a comedy about the unlikeliest of subjects: The Ten Commandments. When I use the term "comedy," I do so loosely. This is one of those films where the humor is of the hit-and-miss variety, and it misses more often than it hits. The jokes are transparent. It's not difficult to divine what's supposed to be funny. It's just that a lot of the time, I wasn't laughing. Like a bad Monty Python or Saturday Night Live skit, there's no absence of irreverence and the viewer can sort-of understand what the performers are aiming for, but they miss the target. Sometimes it's timing and/or execution and sometimes it's that the gag isn't as funny as the filmmakers think it is, or that it runs too long, or both.

There's no plot to speak of. The narrator, Jeff (Paul Rudd), tells us we're going to see ten shorts, each one illustrating some truth about one of the Commandments. He returns in between each of the vignettes and, during these breaks, we learn that he is cheating on his wife (Famke Janssen) with a young bit of crumpet (Jessica Alba). (That, by the way, becomes the background for the ninth skit: "You shall not commit adultery.") For the most part, each short is independent of the others, although there are characters who cross over or make cameos. Among those with the most screen time are Gloria (Gretchen Mol), who has an affair with Jesus Christ (Justin Theroux); Kelly (Winona Ryder), who becomes infatuated with a ventriloquist's wooden dummy after her fiancé gets buried up to his shoulders in the ground; and Dr. Richie (Ken Marino), who ends up in jail for murder after leaving a surgical instrument inside a woman as a "goof."

The Ten features a cast chock-full of familiar faces: Paul Rudd, Famke Janssen, Winona Ryder, Gretchen Mol, Justin Theroux, Oliver Platt, and Jessica Alba. Blink, however, and you risk missing at least one of them. The most appealing is arguably Mol, who turns on the charm as a late bloomer who loses her virginity to a messiah hanging out in Mexico waiting to get the rapture underway. Jessica Alba finds a role within her limited scope of acting capabilities - all she has to do is smile and act perky. And Winona Ryder shows a sense of humor - she's the lead in the "You shall not steal" episode. Neither she nor those in the audience are likely to miss the irony.

Several of the skits are painfully unfunny. These include one about a skydiver who ends up stuck in the ground and becomes a phenomenon ("You shall have no other gods before me"), one about a bunch of guys who get naked and listen to Roberta Flack while their wives are at church on Sunday ("Keep holy the Sabbath"), and one about twin boys whose father is either Arsenio Hall or Arnold Schwarzenegger ("Honor your mother and father"). One involves animation ("You shall not bear false witness"), but the cartoon isn't any more amusing than much of the live-action material. The movie concludes with a musical number that's more entertaining and clever than everything that precedes it.

Unlike Krzysztof Kieslowski's Decalogue, which uses the Ten Commandments as leaping-off points for dramatic stories that have some moral underpinning, The Ten represents nothing more than an opportunity for joking around. It's never serious and it doesn't attempt to teach anything. This is not necessarily a bad thing - if only the result had tickled the funny bone more aggressively. The Ten is also not for those who are affronted by humor that could easily be deemed sacrilegious. Despite the theme, this is not a motion picture anyone would use the term "morally upright" to describe. There are no sacred cows for the filmmakers. They are equal opportunity offenders.

The director is David Wain, who has brought in many of his fellow collaborators from the '90s TV show The State. This becomes the second 2007 film to fall back on participants from that long defunct MTV series. The other one, Reno 911!: Miami, offered humor that was on about the same level and hit the mark with an equal degree of irregularity. The ultimate problem with The Ten is not that it isn't good for the occasional laugh but the number of eight-minute dead spots is too large to make the good bits seem worthwhile. There are lengthy stretches during this movie when it's deadly dull. This is the kind of film that's ideal for DVD viewing. Judicious use of the fast forward button will greatly increase The Ten's appeal.

Ten, The (United States, 2007)

Run Time: 1:33
U.S. Release Date: 2007-08-03
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Sexual Situations, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1