New comedy ‘The Ten’ falls flat

BY CATE MARQUIS, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

I had high expectations for The Ten. The concept sounded promising: a comedy with ten little stories illustrating the Ten Commandments. Better yet, writer/director David Wain is Jewish and the comedy features a host of recognizable Jewish stars, such as Leiv Schrieber, Paul Rudd, Winona Ryder and Ron Silver. This could be fun.

But no.

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The Ten is a bad comedy, with a capital B. Sure, it clearly is supposed to be dumb comedy, with a heavy dose of tastelessness, but the humor is largely missing.

The ten vignettes that are supposed to be about each commandment have little, if anything, to do with the commandment we are told it illustrates. Instead, each little skit is a series of awkward non-sequiturs, without any real point, despite the gifted cast. Some of the individual jokes or sight gags are funny but most fall flat, as do the segments as a whole. The whole thing ends with a scene that looks like it came out of the Broadway musical Rent.

Rather than being a satiric comedy dealing with moral lessons, The Ten appears to be more a parody of a sincerely cheesy comedy about the Ten Commandments. Unfortunately, the laughs are just too few.

The ten segments are tied together by a narrator named Jeff Reigert, played by Paul Rudd. However, Jeff is distracted from his job as host, by his younger mistress (Jessica Alba) and complaining wife (Famke Janssen) throughout. The distracted host is clearly an attempt to poke fun at cutesy and awkward framing devices but the result is plodding rather than humorous.

The Ten runs through the commandments largely in order. Adam Brody stars as a guy who survives a fall from a plane and goes on to his fifteen minutes of fame. One oblique reference to his being more popular than the deity is as close as it gets to the commandment “Thou shalt have no gods before me.” In the segment about the commandment against murder, the main character is a doctor (played by co-writer Ken Marino) who kills a patient as a joke, but the focus is on puns about the double meaning of the word “goof” to mean either a mistake or a prank. Over and over. The segment on stealing stars Winona Ryder, an unspoken wink at her tabloid history with shoplifting, but the segment is more weird and crude than funny. Gifted actor Leiv Schreiber, in a segment about coveting your neighbor’s goods, breezes through a nonsensical bit that has him filling his house with CAT scan machines, to keep up with the Jones next door. Yeah.

For a movie about the Ten Commandments, there are almost no references to religion. The few that do exist are generically Christian, and the commandments presented are even the Roman Catholic versions. One segment, with Gretchen Mol playing a virginal character who has a fling with Jesus H. Christ (Justin Theroux) in Mexico, might be offensive to some Christians but otherwise, there is just not much there. Still, all that would have been fine, if the film were funny. The odd thing is that some of these bits sound funnier on paper than they are in the film. Monty Python surely demonstrated that comedians can mine gold from the silly and the tangential. But Pythoneque humor never materializes in The Ten. Or, generally, any other kind.

The cast all give it their best but it is the script that does not take off. The problem is that the jokes are rather forced and the laughs are sparse. Some jokes are overly complex or buried within the meandering internal structure of the film. The silly and absurd skits are more likely to provoke one to say “and your point is?” than laughter.

Writer/actor David Wain is a funny guy and has done good work before. This film, his second directing effort, just isn’t his best.

Well, a wise man once said dying is easy, comedy is hard. This one is dead on arrival.

The Ten opens at the Tivoli Theatre on August 17, 2007.