The Ten

Director: David Wain   
Paul Rudd, Famke Janssen, Winona Ryder

In the years I have spent writing movie reviews for this web site, I have not only written the fact about movies, but I have also revealed material about my private life. I have mentioned personal things like my childhood dreams and nightmares, the romance in my life, my thoughts about politics, and many things that I like or do not like. One thing that I don't think I have mentioned before in my writings are my views on religion. I haven't mentioned anything about that for a couple of reasons. I didn't want to risk turning off people who are dead set in their views of religion; I wanted everyone who came to this site to be equally entertained and not forced to read something that might offend them. Also, before reviewing the movie I am writing about in this review, I have never had a opportunity to really get into religion and my views of it. But I finally do with this movie, and I have a source of material to start this movie review. I guess that before I start discussing my views of religion, I should start way back and reveal how my thoughts on religion have been shaped by experiences throughout my life. I should start off by revealing that my family was never a churchgoing family, so nothing happened in my first few years. I guess my first exposure to religion was when I was old enough to go to nursery school. My parents enrolled me in a downtown nursery school that was run out of a church. There was nothing religious about anything the nursery school teachers said and did. But I don't have any bad memories of the place, so I guess it could be considered a positive experience.

My next experience with religion came when I was in grade two in elementary school. In that class, my teacher would spend part of almost every day reading Bible passages to us, then afterwards leading us in a prayer. I remember that I hated this religious part of my school day. Even at such a young age, it just felt wrong to try and force your beliefs on other people who did not believe or just weren't interested. I thought about telling my objections to my teacher, as well as entertaining the thought of telling my parents, but for some reason I never did. For the next few years after that, my exposure to religion came from Uncle Arthur's Bedtime Stories. There was a copy of that book in the waiting area at the clinic where my family saw our doctor, and my mother would read to me stories from that book when we were waiting. The stories weren't overly religious, but they contained strong Christian values. I remember being entertained by the stories when I was young, so that's positive. (Though from what I remember from the stories, I would probably find them pretty hokey today.) Years later, when I was in Korea teaching English, I met a Korean American who invited me to his church. I started to attend his church and had a positive experience; they were good people. However, when I got back home and tried to attend a church here, I was disappointed when the church people, who kept promising to pick me up to take me to church, kept forgetting to pick me up. After this happened several times in a row, I got fed up and abandoned my plans to attend church or any organized religion.

You might be wondering after all these and other religious events in my life just what my present views of religion are - and how I would view a movie that is religious in theme. Well, I don't currently follow a specific religion, in part for a reason that Homer Simpson once stated, which went something like this: "What if we choose the wrong religion? Wouldn't we be making God angry?" On the other hand, I do like to think that there is something out there that is bigger and more powerful than we can imagine. Just to be on the safe side, I have stated several times in the quiet of my apartment to whatever may be out there that if I am living a life that is not to His liking, come down and tell me - I will listen and obey. (So far, I haven't heard any peep from the heavens.) As for watching a movie with a religious theme - even one that may seem blasphemous to some individuals - I am open. Since there are many religions, there should be as many ways to look at religion. You may not agree with my beliefs, but I still have the right to see fault or humor in the beliefs of you or others. Speaking of humor, that is the theme (as well as a religious one) of the movie I am reviewing here, The Ten, a comic look at the ten commandments. Seeing this movie at the video store and reading the description, I felt pretty neutral about this premise. While I will agree that the Bible's ten commandments contain some positive values, at the same time I can see how they can be picked on and taken apart; for example, does the tenth commandment mean a woman can covet her neighbor's husband?

As you may have guessed by the subject matter and the title, The Ten does not consist of one long story, but instead consists of ten short stories, each one inspired by one of the ten commandments. The first story is inspired by "Thou shall have no other gods before me". It concerns Stephen (Adam Brody), a parachutist who makes his first solo jump, though when he jumps from the airplane he (har har) forgets to wear his parachute. Not only is this an old and tired gag, we know this will happen since during his long pre-jump speech we clearly see him at the open door without his parachute. Anyway, when his fiancé lands, she finds Stephen on the ground miraculously alive but buried up to his chest. Doctors tell them that Stephen must stay buried if he's to remain alive. Two months later, Stephen has become a media sensation and a hero to America's youth. How? Why? We don't find out. About a minute later, Stephen's fame is even bigger and he's considered a god. There are a couple of mild chuckles around this point as things start to get negative for Stephen, such as when teenagers start jumping out of airplanes without parachutes to imitate their favorite celebrity. But the other showbiz clichés we see here you'll have seen plenty of times before. At least the sketch doesn't overstay its welcome. Actually, come to think of it, it feels too brief, adding to the feeling the writers couldn't come up with much for this idea.

The next sketch deals with the commandment "Thou shall not take the lord's name in vain." It concerns Gloria (Gretchen Moll), a mousy librarian who at age thirty-five is still a virgin. She decides to take a trip to Mexico and stay with a friend of her father. While at her father's friend's village, she meets the village handyman, a long-haired man named Jesus (Justin Theroux), who she is instantly attracted to. It doesn't take long for them to start a hot and heavy relationship (even though I don't recall him saying a word by this point), but soon Gloria discovers who he really is. Jesus' revelation to Gloria is pretty lame and lacking in explanation. You might think there may be some wacky stuff that happens next, but no - in the next scene, Gloria's vacation has ended and she returns to the United States. In fact, the whole sketch feels like a bunch of missed opportunities. The one positive thing I can say for this sketch is that it uses some attractive Mexican locations.

We then go on to the third sketch, which covers the commandment "Thou shall not murder." The central figure is a doctor Ritchie (Ken Marino), a doctor who makes goofs in the operating room. Not mistakes, but acts that he thinks are simply funny, like sewing up a patient without taking the scissors out of the body first. For that "goof", which causes the patient to later die, he is quickly arrested and put on trial. The trial has a few laughs, in part to a sarcastic judge played by an actress who seems to know what tone should be played in her footage - a lot more than the actor who plays the doctor. He's too jokey, like he knows what he did was wrong, instead of being amusingly naive. The rest of the humor in the sketch is equally lame. At least the sketch ends shortly after the doctor gets to prison, saving us from being bombarded with lame prison gags like dropped-soap-in-the-shower. Or does it? Keep reading, and you'll eventually see what I mean.

After that, we get the next sketch, inspired by the commandment "Honor thy mother and father". After their mother's husband dies, two young African-American men demand to know from their white mother just who their real father is. Reluctantly, the mother reveals that the men's father is... Arnold Schwarzenegger, a fact that the boys seem to accept, even though their mother doesn't really answer their question about why then their skin is black. Subsequently, the mother hires a Schwarzenegger look-alike (who looks nothing like Schwarzenegger) to play father, to give the men an idea of what their supposed father is like. The premise for this sketch is barely an idea, small enough that even though it only runs several minutes long, it still feels very padded. Totally unfunny, it's quite an ordeal to sit through, not helped that it's topped by concluding "gags" that feel even more forced.

Then we get to "Thou shall not covet thy neighbor's goods". One morning, Ray (Liev Schreiber) looks out his window and sees his neighbor Paul getting delivered a C.A.T. scan machine. "Probably want to be a hero," Ray says to his disbelieving wife, and right there is determined to get one for his own. Ray is true to his word, and gets one delivered to his home. This irks Paul, who the next day gets another one delivered to his home. This irks Ray, who then decides he has to get another one as well. This results in... well, things just escalate from that point. Actually, not for very long - the movie seems to realize that this "war between the neighbors" has been done in comic books and comic strips many times before, and does not imitate them and go right past the breaking point. Instead, the movie stops the escalation before too long and throws in a twist, which I admit did provide some genuine humor. But even then, the sketch feels too long, as long as if they had gone down the well-beaten path.

Next on the list we get "Thou shall not covet thy neighbor's wife." It happens to be a continuation of the third sketch in the movie. Doctor Ritchie is still in prison, and he has been made to be the sexual property of his cellmate Buster. Then a new prisoner, Duane (Rob Corddry), comes to the prison, and he is instantly attracted to Ritchie. He soon wishes he was the one raping Ritchie every night instead of Buster, and soon tells Ritchie of his desires. Ritchie is torn between two gay rape lovers, and must come to a decision. The sketch is played more or less straight, taking the familiar out of prison heterosexual triangle plot into a prison-set all-male cast, throwing in a lot of gay rape gags along the way. There are absolutely no surprises in this sketch, as well as no laughs, unless you think that rape and homosexuality are instantly funny. There is the theory that anything can be made funny (the movie Where's Poppa? had a funny bit concerning homosexual rape), but the attitude in this sketch is that just bringing up rape and homosexuality will bring laughs, and that you don't have to work at it.

What we get next is "Thou shall not steal", a sketch that stars Winona Ryder. Ah, you are probably thinking, we are going to get a comic look at the shoplifting scandal Ryder got herself into several years back, with a savage look at celebrity and the media! If that's what you're thinking, I have to inform you that you're wrong. Instead, Ryder plays a married woman who one night goes to a club with her husband. A ventriloquist and his dummy "Gary" are the star attraction, and Ryder is instantly won over by not just the act, but with the dummy. In fact, she is not only won over, she becomes obsessed. Later that night, she steals the dummy and has a wild night with it. No, the puppet doesn't come magically to life in her presence - we see her do stuff to this lifeless puppet like having sex with it. Soon her jealous husband finds out, and the rest of the sketch is predictable. The sketch shares the same fault with the previous sketch, with it taking a tired situation and simply changing the roles around without mixing the material up to bring comedy.

After that, we get to "Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor", a sketch that is different from the rest of the sketches, namely because just about all of it is an animated cartoon. The bulk of the animated sketch focuses on an unlucky rhino, who we see several times being unsuccessful at the jobs he finds himself in (as well as with generating laughs.) Finally he finds out what he's good at: spreading lies. He spreads misery with his lies among the other animals, until finally none of the animals want anything to do with him. Then the story moves to the classic "boy who cried wolf" theme, and it is equally as unclever at making that humorous as well. I guess if I was pressed to admit anything good about the sketch, I would say the animation was okay. But even if the animation was better, it still would not make up for a rotten script. As they say, "You can't polish a turd," and the sketch keeps reminding us of that by showing several cartoon turds (and one real one) during its running time.

Don't worry, we're getting near the end. Next on the list is "Thou shall not commit adultery." Actually, this is not the beginning of the skit here. At the beginning and in between the previous sketches we have been seeing clips of the romantic life of Jeff (Rudd). Up to this point we have seen him battling with his wife (Janssen), starting an affair with a younger woman (Alba), and revealing the affair to his wife and leaving her - practically all of which is acted seriously, with just about no attempts at humor. (And the few attempts that are are not funny. Why are you not surprised?) When we get to this point, we learn that Jeff has left his girlfriend, and he bumps into his ex-wife, who he clearly still has feeling for, even though he's married to a new wife. How does Jeff resolve this? In the lamest and stupidest way possible, which I won't reveal. Well, maybe I should so you don't have enough curiosity to see this movie: He calls his present wife on his phone and tells her he's calling it off, which does the trick. End of sketch.

The last sketch (finally!) deals with the commandment "Thou shall honor the Sabbath day and keep it holy." Oliver does not want to attend church with his wife, so he pretends he's sick. When she's gone, he spends the next few hours alone in his house without his clothes on. He subsequently brags this to a friend, who he invites to join him naked during the next Sunday. Soon, every Sunday after that one, they have all their male friends over to hang out naked. Will Oliver be able to keep up the deception to his wife of pretending to be sick every Sunday so he and his friends can be naked? Do you care? This may be the worst of all the ten stories, because it concludes with a musical number that stretches the sketch out to - yes - an ungodly length. Finally, we get to the end, and where I have to conclude this review. I don't know what else to say, except I am pretty stunned to have seen so much time and effort put into something that generates so few laughs. As bad as this movie is, I do have to admit that it could have been a lot worse. The skits are almost completely without humor, but the majority of them move by at a pretty fast pace, so any viewer will at least find a new and fresh way to find the enterprise unfunny at a regular pace. But even then, viewers after watching the movie will probably be praying to God to not let the writers or director do another comedy ever again.

Check for availability on Amazon (DVD)

See also: Cracking Up, Eternity, Viewer Discretion Advised