2007Director: David Wain
Cast: Ken Marino, Paul Rudd, Winona Ryder
elcome to Wain’s World: an outrageous comic vista governed only by a lack of restraint and a complete denial of “good taste.” It’s a place that’s alternately innocent and incendiary, where the funniest jokes assault our pre-conceived notions of how comedy should be executed, and social satire comes with a wink and a fart.
Since the 1993 debut of “The State”, the sense of humor exhibited by David Wain and the core nucleus of performers who share his anarchic vision (Michael Showalter, Michael Ian Black, Ken Marino, Joe Lo Truglio, Paul Rudd, Thomas Lennon) has been polarizing both audiences and critics. So I’ll lay it out bluntly: if you aren’t amused by the testicle-obsessed humor of “The State”, the exaggerated sexual deviance of Wet Hot American Summer, or the effeminate absurdity of “Stella,” then you will hate The Ten and there’s no reason to read this review (and if these projects mean nothing to you, a few clip-scouring minutes spent on YouTube and College Humor should help you to reach a pretty swift verdict).
If you’re still here, I’ll assume there’s a chance you might actually like this movie, and thus I should explain the somewhat unenthused grade: although The Ten is driven by the same recklessly offensive verve as Wain’s best work, the film feels maddeningly inconsistent, even to an initiated devotee like myself. Of the ten stories here, each covering one of the Ten Commandments, only about half are truly inspired; the other five tales range from awkwardly unfunny to abysmally bad. At its worst, The Ten resorts to poking fun at foreigners, amputees and prison sex, which is the kind of faux-edgy tripe I would expect out of the Scary Movie series, not some of the funniest comics in America.
And therein lays one of the film’s biggest flaws: it’s not some of the funniest comics in America—guys like Showalter, Black, and Lennon—that are bombing the material (in fact these three performers are criminally underused). It’s the bigger names like Winona Ryder, Oliver Platt, Gretchen Mol: great actors yes, but totally unversed in the kind of comic ridiculousness that plays out here. Ryder in particular gives the impression of the serious high school actress letting loose at an after-show cast party—thrilled to play the fool, yet completely out of her element. Elsewhere, Mol looks confused and uncomfortable in a potentially funny segment about a woman who is deflowered by Jesus Christ himself (Justin Theroux) and Platt looks equally confused and uncomfortable in a doomed sketch about a Schwarzenegger impersonator.
Thankfully, not all of the “celebrity guests” give crash and burn performances. Liev Schreiber is perfect as a mustachioed detective whose reckless coveting of his neighbor’s CAT Scan machine results in the death of forty schoolchildren by radiation poisoning. Instead of overplaying the role for forced laughs, Schreiber plays it straight to highlight the absurdity of the situation.
He makes the audience believe that there are actually people out there as petty and idiotic as his detective character, which is kind of the point of Wain’s humor in the first place. Meanwhile, “The OC’s” indie-boy heartthrob Adam Brody gives a surprisingly funny and even-headed performance as a skydiver who gets stuck in the ground after a failed jump. His transition from thrill-seeking adrenaline junkie to scandal-plagued celebrity asshole with only one torso is one of the film’s highlights.
Now I don’t mean to lay a disproportionate amount of praise on only the male performers. But while the film contains many funny actresses, Wain completely wastes their talents by making poor casting decisions. Kerri Kenney of “Reno 911” is forced to do her best to salvage the lame and bewildering Schwarzenegger segment, while Rashida Jones of “The Office” and Andrea Rosen of “Stella” are relegated to blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameos.
But despite all the wasted potential and unevenness, when Wain trusts his front line (especially Marino, Lo Truglio, and Rudd) The Ten is as fun and subversive as the director’s best work. It’s a pity that to get to the good stuff, it’s necessary to wade through bad jokes, funny jokes that go on for too long, and self-satisfied celebrity appearances. But even still, The Ten is must-see material for the devoted fan-base. I mean, where else are you going to see Michael Ian Black play a Shakespeare-quoting prison guard?
The Ten is currently playing in limited release.
By: David Holmes
Published on: 2007-08-13