It may present itself as an assortment of ten tales connected to the Biblical commandments, but few viewers will find this series of mini-movies by David Wain and Ken Marino a source of much moral instruction—except perhaps of a negative sort. This is a spoof, not Kieslowski. The picture is basically a ninety-minute series of comedy sketches, the individual bits ragging on the commandments and linked together by farcical narration from a self-centered Paul Rudd. But the humor’s too rude and crass ever to pass muster on network TV. Cable, of course, is quite another matter, and one can expect “The Ten” to be broadcast regularly on Comedy Central before long.
There’s nothing wrong with the underlying idea. If it were cleverly written, “The Ten” could be a hoot. But it isn’t: apart from an occasional bright line and amusing throwaway bits of business, the humor here is juvenile and flat. The limpness of the material starts with Rudd’s interjections, centered on his difficulties with his wife (Famke Janssen) and mistress (Jessica Alba). Rudd’s an agreeable fellow, but even his charm can’t rescue this drab stuff. And the mediocrity continues through most of the sketches, from the first—an overlong one-joke piece about a guy (Adam Brody) who jumps from a plane without a parachute and finds himself planted in the ground up to the waist, unable to be removed, only to become a celebrity (and even a sitcom star) while his fiancee (Winona Ryder) leaves for greener pastures—to the last, in which a husband finds a very peculiar way to spend his time on Sunday mornings when his wife and son go off to church. Along the way there’s a piece about a mousy librarian (Gretchen Mol) who finds love during a Mexican vacation with none other than Jesus (Justin Theroux); another about two neighbors (one of them Live Schreiber) who try to outdo one another in the number of CAT-scan machines then can acquire (a nuclear plant mishap is also involved); a third about a doctor (Marino) who leaves a pair of scissors inside a patient as a “goof” and, after she dies, is convicted of murder and sent to prison (followed by a sequel centering on his love life inside); another about black twins whose mother informs them that their father is an unlikely celebrity she’d once bedded; and even an animated piece about a “lying rhino”—to mention only some.
As this precis indicates, a lot of big names—or reasonably big ones, anyway—show up here, not just those mentioned above but also Oliver Platt, as a guy who does a rather unconvincing impression of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the twins tale. Unfortunately, none of them are at their best. That’s not their fault, it’s Marino and Wain’s. These are, after all, the guys who brought you “Wet Hot American Summer,” that genre send-up that aimed for smart parody and turned out to be dumb farce, and this effort is equally maladroit. So laxly paced that it steps on the few promising moments the script provides, this might pass muster in a night owl slot on the tube, where it will certainly be available soon to serve as fodder for insomniacs. As a theatrical feature, though, “The Ten” is at best a five.