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The Ten

Review By: Michael Dance

The Ten presents us with a simple enough idea: we will see ten short stories, each of them thematically linked to a different one of the Ten Commandments. Why, you ask? No reason; the movie doesn't mean anything, even though at the end it pretends to. Star Paul Rudd was quite happy to admit on Leno the other night that that last scene, which features the entire cast explaining (through a sing-along) what the point was, is completely unearned.

And yet The Ten works for the very basic reason that it's completely hilarious.

All the stories are linked in the sense that the characters often pop up in different capacities, and past events are often referenced; a peripheral character in one turns out to be the lead of another. You get the idea. Setting all the stories in the same world also has the benefits of providing us with an untold number of throwaway and sight gags, some of which I'm sure I missed. An example: one character that appears in two or three of the stories is always introduced in such a way that we initially think he's a small person. No reason necessary; it's just a reward for the close observer, and like the rest of the movie, is both pointless and amusing.

Rudd is the host of the program. He introduces each story, and in order to give the movie a bit of a through-line, has an unfolding storyline himself that eventually becomes one of the ten. Along with Rudd, the cast features faces that will be familiar to any fans of Wet Hot American Summer or MTV's The State: Ken Marino, David Wain (who also directed), Kerri Kenney, A.D. Miles, and a few more. It also lands a ton of much more recognizable names: Liev Schreiber, Famke Janssen, Jessica Alba, Winona Ryder, Oliver Platt, Gretchen Mol, Adam Brody, and more.

Most of these guys are great character actors, and very few of them are known to headline their own movies; in this sort of movie, that works great, since each one gets their own individual chance to appear, do something that's usually bizarre and hilarious, and then fade into the background again. Some are bound to stand out more than others: Schreiber is surprisingly deadpan and hilarious as a father in the suburbs who decides his family needs a CAT-scan machine after his neighbor gets one. (You guessed it, that features one of the "don't covet" commandments.) And Brody, who's much, much more at home in small roles like this than in lead roles in crappy movies like In the Land of Women, had me cracking up as a guy who, through some odd circumstances, is forced to live his life half-buried in the ground. "Ahh, I can't move!" he cries to the heavens when faced with his girlfriend running away from him.

Keeping with the randomness of the project, one of the stories is even animated. And one of the best is the "thou shalt not murder" story, featuring a doctor who leaves a pair of scissors in a just-operated-on woman as a goof. "You goofed?" asks the woman's incredulous husband. "No, no, as a goof," the doc responds. See, he likes to goof. (I promise I'm not trying to give away the funny parts; that one was in the trailer.) The doctor is played by Ken Marino, who co-wrote the story with director Wain and should, with any luck, finally have a lucrative comedy career ahead of him.

Strangely enough, despite the concept of the movie, there's not a whole lot of religion in it; the Ten Commandments just act as the jumping-off points to tell the stories. The only explicitly religious-themed story involves an uptight women (Mol) who has an affair with a man (Justin Theroux) who turns out to be the Second Coming of Jesus, who's stalling before he has to deal with the whole Armageddon thing. It could've easily been mean-spirited or anti-Christian, but all those crying blasphemy should relax; it's obviously not a real representation of how the filmmakers view Jesus, and like the rest of the stories, it's just having a little fun. Ditto with the "honor the Sabbath" story: a guy skips church every Sunday in order to hang out at his house in the nude with all his guy friends. A think piece on closeted homosexuality among suburb-dwelling Christian men? Nope, just trying to make you laugh.

An aside: actually, I did learn something about religion thanks to this movie. The Roman Catholic version of the Ten Commandments is actually slightly different from the Protestant version. Catholics split the "coveting" part into two separate commandments (don't covet your neighbor's wife, and don't covet your neighbor's belongings), while Protestants instead split "thou shalt have no other gods before me" and "thou shalt not make an idol" into two separate commandments. Jewish teaching is different still: they connect those two as a single unit like the Catholics, and they connect the coveting rules as a single unit like the Protestants, but they single out "I am the Lord thy God" as its own commandment. For the four or five of you who haven't stopped reading this paragraph yet, The Ten uses the Roman Catholic version.

Movie Grade: A-


“The Ten” is comprised of ten blasphemous and hysterical stories inspired by the Biblical Commandments, each told in a different style, but with characters and themes that overlap. The film is held together by a narrator who, in turn, has his own moral problems.

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"I don't think you're dumb... I just think at times you're under-exposed to information." -Murphy Brown