Anytime you compile a series of vignettes and call it a feature film, you’re going to have hits and misses. It’s the nature of the structure.
Some recent examples (“Paris Je T’aime,” “Coffee and Cigarettes”) have had more hits; “The Ten,” unfortunately, has more misses.
Directed by David Wain and co-written by Wain and Ken Marino, the film presents a series of stories based on the Ten Commandments — well, kind of. It’s more like, maybe someone kills a person, or maybe someone takes the Lord’s name in vain, and a comedy sketch is created around it.
Though the filmmakers admittedly steal from “Dekalog,” Krzysztof Kieslowski’s 10-part TV series set in a Polish apartment building, you shouldn’t walk into this expecting any sort of sophisticated humor; after all, these are the guys who brought you “Wet Hot American Summer,” which had its moments (though Marino also wrote “Diggers,” which showed real humanity and depth). But some of these shorts are really reaching.
Paul Rudd, Adam Brody, Gretchen Mol, Winona Ryder, Oliver Platt and Jessica Alba are among the ensemble cast, which also includes Wain and Marino’s buddies from the MTV series “The State.” Liev Schreiber goes massively to waste in the least funny segment of all; he plays a police detective who’s envious when his next-door neighbor (Joe Lo Truglio) buys a CAT scan machine, touching off a psychotic game of one-upmanship that ultimately turns tragic.
Characters wander in and out of one another’s episodes — someone who has a minor part in one becomes the star later on — and certain catch phrases (“Let’s do it to it!”) get repeated. Other than that, don’t look too hard for cohesion.
But there is an absurd, deadpan vibe in the beginning that’s appealing. Brody plays a young man on the brink of getting married (to Ryder’s character) who jumps out of an airplane without a parachute, gets lodged in the ground from the chest down, and becomes an instant reality TV star.
Mol plays a mousy librarian (though you know she’s got some Bettie Page secretly inside her) who travels alone to Mexico and has a wildly sexual fling with a local handyman named Jesus H. Christ (Justin Theroux in long hair and a beard). The subtitled asides are amusing.
And probably the best segment of all finds Ryder, again, falling in love with and then stealing a ventriloquist’s dummy while on her honeymoon (with the guy she married after dumping Brody). Their “date” at a bar has a surreal hilarity.
Then there are the duds. Besides Schreiber’s segment, there’s an entirely animated portion about a rhinoceros who tells lies, deals drugs and leaves droppings everywhere. The last one, about a married father of two (A.D. Miles) who ditches church on Sundays to host all-male, nude parties and listen to Roberta Flack, is funnier in concept than execution.
All of this is tied together by Rudd as the narrator, who has his own problem of biblical proportions: choosing between his wife (Famke Janssen) and his mistress (Alba). Poor guy.
But those scenes just feel like filler, as does the interminable musical number at the end in which all the cast members come back for a glam-rock recap of what we’ve just seen. It’s enough to make you feel as antsy as would sitting through Sunday school.