Stepping out from behind two giant stone tablets, Jeff Riegert (Paul Rudd) hangs up the phone on his nagging wife before greeting the audience. He introduces ten different stories inspired by none other than the Ten Commandments found in the Old Testament that somehow relate to his current dilemma, choosing between his wife Gretchen (Famke Janssen) and vivacious, young mistress Liz (Jessica Alba). Blasphemy, profanity and inanity ensue over the course of ten not particularly funny skits.
In 2013 the infamous Movie 43 (2012) had stone-faced audiences wondering how or indeed why so many A-list Hollywood stars gathered to humiliate themselves in such a risible, laughter-free excuse for a comedy? The same question could apply to The Ten, a similarly star-laden comedic misfire that came out a few years before but limped quietly in and out of theatres drawing nowhere near the same level of bile. This was the second feature film outing from the team behind Wet Hot American Summer (2001), actor-producer-screenwriter Ken Marino and writer-director David Wain. The pair went on to greater success with their next films, Role Models (2007) and Wanderlust (2012) starring Paul Rudd again who was a co-producer here alongside Rashida Jones who also ranks among the blink-and-you'll miss 'em cameos along with Mad Men's Jon Hamm.
Oddly enough, very little of the film's attempts at humour relied upon the Biblical themes the filmmakers had taken great pains to set up. Instead, Wain and Marino more or less ploughed the same defiantly low-brow furrow mined by the Farrelly brothers in their subsequent anthology with similarly mixed results. First off we have “Though Shalt Worship No God Before Me” wherein Steven Montgomery (Adam Brody) becomes an unlikely celebrity after a freak sky-diving accident leaves him permanently embedded in the ground. Much to the dismay of his fiancé, Kelly (Winona Ryder). Despite an amusing premise satirizing media obsession with “freak of the week” celebrities this opening segment is dishearteningly lightweight and stretches a one-joke idea till it is paper thin. Mousy, lovelorn librarian Gloria Jennings (Gretchen Mol) takes centre-stage for “Thou Shalt Not Take the Lord's Name in Vain” as her vacation in Mexico leads to a summer fling with handsome handyman Jesus (Justin Theroux) who turns out to be more than simply a namesake. As with subsequent segments the racism and misogyny featured in this story prove considerably more offensive than any presumed blasphemy. Ken Marino himself headlines “Thou Shalt Not Murder” as a doctor who leaves a pair of scissors inside a patient “as a goof” and ends up on trial for murder while in “Thou Shalt Honour Thy Mother and Father”, a white woman (Kerri Kenney-Silver) hires an Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonator (Oliver Platt) to be a father figure to her black children after revealing the Governator is their biological father, even though its obvious she is a little mixed up.
As with the subsequent entry, “Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbour's Goods” wherein feuding neighbours (Liev Schrieber (who was also in Movie 43! Didn't he learn his lesson?) and Joe Lo Truglio) try to outdo each other by accumulating dozens of CAT-scan machines then pick the worst possible time to make up, these stories are less funny than baffling. However, “Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbour's Wife”, with Ken Marino returning as a prison bitch courted by another lovelorn inmate (Rob Corddry) proves a darkly funny reinterpretation of the commandment albeit in appalling taste. It also features comedian Michael Ian Black as a Shakespeare quoting prison guard. One area where The Ten cannot be faulted is the commitment of its cast who all give one hundred percent. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in “Thou Shalt Not Steal” which brings back Winona Ryder as a newlywed whose strong sexual attraction to a ventriloquist's dummy drives her to desperate lengths and some life-changing decisions. It must be seen to be believed, not least by those who grew up idolizing Winona as the hippest actress of her generation. Heathers (1989) might seem like a long time ago but she is still a trooper. Less impressive is “Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness” an animated sequence directed by Aaron Augenblick. Narrated by a group of heroin addicts this tells the story of a rhinoceros prone to defecating on the ground who discovers a talent for spinning outrageous lies but proves unable to stop a bunch of gay dogs infecting his neighbours with lethal STDs during an epic orgy. It is hopelessly juvenile but if Happy Tree Friends is your kind of humour...
Finally Jeff and Gretchen run into each other some time after their divorce in “Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery” which features an inexplicable and unfunny running gag about Dianne Wiest before “Remember the Sabbath and Keep it Holy” ends things on a bizarre note with rampant male nudity and a sing-along chorus. Routinely stupefying yet shockingly dull, The Ten may well go on to become a cult film or else an archaeological remnant of a time when comedians thought simply behaving outrageously was infinitely more amusing than making actual jokes.