Moses wandered in the desert for 40 years and never did get to the promised land. But at least he had some laughs along the way. That puts him one up on anyone who ventures out to see The Ten, an ostensible comedy, ostensibly based on the Ten Commandments. The Ten doesn't really last 40 years; it only feels like it. And though there are a couple of segments about which we might remark, yes, that's a funny idea, there's not really a sustained laugh in the whole movie.
Directed by David Wain and written by Wain with Ken Marino, The Ten is a series of sketches each purporting to illustrate one of the commandments. Serving as the Morgus-the-Magnificent bridge between the episodes is Paul Rudd, who never manages to deliver a proper intro before getting into a squabble with either his judgmental, impatient wife, Famke Janssen, or his libidinous, impatient girlfriend, Jessica Alba. Like Johnny Carson's Art Fern hosting the Tea Time Movie, Rudd's shenanigans with his women are designed to be part of the comedy, only unlike Fern's inevitable smooching with Matinee Lady Carol Wayne, Rudd's schtick isn't ever funny.
The sketches themselves are a mishmash, notable for strong players and inept writing. The episodes are so loosely connected to the principles of the commandments that one ultimately wonders if the purported biblical theme wasn't something the filmmakers added at the end rather than started with at the begining. In "Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods Before Me," for instance, an extremely stupid skydiver (Adam Brody) hurtles from a plane forgetting his parachute and arrows himself into the ground up to his neck. He survives, but he can never be moved. Nevertheless, he becomes a major television celebrity who arcs to immense popularity and back to obscurity. Winona Ryder, as his fiancŽ, goes through with the wedding but remains sexually unfulfilled because, well, her husband is buried in the ground up to his neck. As Arte Johnson used to declare at the end of Laugh In, very interesting, but not very funny.
"Thou Shalt Not Murder" proceeds from the inhumane indifference of a surgeon (screenwriter Marino) who leaves a pair of scissors in a woman's abdomen "as a goof" and can't understand why everyone else doesn't get the joke. Count me in that puzzled number. "Thou Shalt Not Covet" features a battle of "Keeping Up with the Joneses" between Liev Schreiber and his next-door neighbor. Cars, appliances and electronic gadgets give way to the acquisition of CAT Scan machines, one for every room in the house and the more the merrier until these two idiots have cornered the market on medical diagnosis equipment. This one doesn't even sound very funny.
Perhaps the lamest of the episodes, like a skit that was cut from Saturday Night Live, arrives in "Remember the Sabbath and Keep It Holy." A wife goes off to church, leaving behind her husband, who pretends to be suffering from a series of ailments providing him an excuse to stay home. Once she leaves, he takes off all his clothes. Subsequently he invites his male friends over, and they disrobe as well. They chat, watch TV, play cards, all au naturel. And that's it.
The weirdest segment is "Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness," which is rendered as a tall tale swapped among crack addicts and dramatized as a cartoon about a frustrated hippo who expresses his displeasure over his various professional failures by defecating on his way out the door. My wife wondered while we watched this episode if smoking the same substance as the filmmakers might enable us to enjoy matters more.
"Thou Shalt Not Steal" made me feel sorry for Winona Ryder (not the first time that has happened recently) because she puts so much energy into a vehicle unworthy of her passion. Still portraying the unsatisfied wife of the skydiver buried up to his neck, Ryder becomes sexually obsessed with a ventriloquist dummy. Watching her in vigorous congress with the puppet, I found myself wondering how a performer justifiably nominated for Oscars in Little Women and The Age of Innocence could have been reduced to such embarrassment.
"Honor Thy Father and Mother" has a promising premise as a white couple raise two African-American sons and, once the father dies, the boys want their mother to tell them the true story of their conception. Oliver Platt shows up here to do a deliberately poor impersonation of Arnold Schwarzenegger. But still, no laughs are delivered. More promising still is "Thou Shalt Not Take the Name of the Lord in Vain," as 35-year-old virgin librarian Gretchen Mol meets a Mexican carpenter named Jesus (Justin Theroux), who is actually the Nazarene himself back from heaven and allowing himself a variety of earthly diversions before delivering the rapture. Unfortunately, long before the moment of her divine deflowering, we know just what Mol will cry out at the moment of climax.