DIRECTED BY: David Wain
PLOT: A series of short comedic stories, each inspired by one of the Ten Commandments.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It has a few bizarre moments, but The Ten is nowhere near consistently weird enough to number among the 366.
COMMENTS: It’s both easy and difficult to review an anthology movie like The Ten. There are ten mini-movies, so going in you realize that there are inevitably going to be hits and misses, and that spread over ninety minutes the quality is likely to average out. Actually watching the movie is just a matter of confirming that there’s neither exceptional brilliance or exceptional incompetence at work here, and that the whole does indeed converge towards the predicted mean. Although the segments span some stylistic territory, including one obscenely animated Commandment, there are more similarities than differences. Scripted by two of the co-creators of the MTV sketch comedy show “The State,” the pieces here don’t have a “short film” feel so much as a “TV sketch” sensibility, only with mild blasphemy, cuss words and (way too many) jokes about prison rape added to take advantage of the fact there are no advertisers to alienate. The sketches all begin with an absurd premise—a woman is erotically obsessed with a ventriloquist’s dummy, Jesus has returned for the Second Coming but is procrastinating about starting the rapture, a clueless doctor has a dimwitted excuse for killing one of his patients—and then develops it for seven to nine minutes before moving on to the next segment. Two of the ten stories are done in a radically different style. One is a spot-on parody of a Woody Allen-style scene involving urbane ex-lovers meeting on a Manhattan street. Then there’s the weirdest bit, an X-rated animated sequence (recalling Fritz the Cat) involving depraved anthropomorphic animals, including a heroin-dealing rhino who inexplicably poops flowers, ending in an interspecies orgy. The framing device involves a narrator whose domestic problems keep spilling over into his introductions, and the movie ends with the entire cast singing a musical recap (“I introduced each story, there were ten, you couldn’t have missed ‘em/I was surrounded by gigantic prop tablets, but I didn’t heed their wisdom…”) To make The Ten seem less disjointed, some of the main characters from one tale play a supporting role in other stories. All of the sketches are irreverent, but there isn’t a consistent satirical outlook across the entire movie, and so the “Ten Commandments” hook never becomes more than a gimmick. The connection between the gag and the illustrative Commandment is often stretched; for example, “thou shalt have no God before me” inspires a silly spoof on celebrity worship. The writers managed to draw major talent to the project: Wynona Ryder features prominently in two of the stories, the late Ron Silver shows up in an actor’s dream vengeance role as a talent agent, Jessica Alba appears as a bimbo, and Oliver Platt gets the movie’s best bit as an impressionist who specializes in doing a mediocre Arnold Schwarzenegger (although it’s better than his Eddie Murphy). But despite the infusion of name-value movie stars, The Ten remains televisionesque; it’s missing that extra “oomph” needed to justify feature film status. Basically The Decalogue re-imagined as a grossout sketch comedy series, The Ten is sporadically amusing, but non-essential viewing.
Written by David Wain and Ken Marino, alumni from MTV’s minor cult hit “The State,” and featuring many of that series’ regulars, The Ten might have been banking on “State” fans showing up a decade after cancellation for what almost amounted to an uncensored reunion show. That didn’t happen, as the film debuted to tepid reviews and went on to recoup less than a million dollars of its $5.2 million budget at the box office.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…a series of stone-tablet-based short films — from the gross to the surreal to the certifiably nuts… A ‘Decalogue’ for special-ed students, ‘The Ten’ leans too often toward the bizarre and the bewildering.”–Jeanette Catsoulis, The New York Times (contemporaneous)
(This movie was nominated for review by Kallisti, who conceded it “might not be the weird you’re looking for but it’s worth watching.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)