Sometimes I hate reviewing comedies. It's a totally subjective experience. What makes you laugh might not make me laugh, and what makes me laugh today may not hit my funny bone tomorrow. Thus, when I tell you that The Ten is one of the most unfunny, pretentious bores I've ever seen in a cinema, what does that really mean to you?
I worked in an independent video store for two and a half years, the kind of place that had a section of movies organized by directors and where you could actually get some customer service. It made me pretty good at handicapping the tastes of others in order to find a movie a particular customer might like. When someone would come in and ask for something funny, I'd find out what movies made them laugh so I could try to recommend something accordingly. I think it would be helpful here to turn this around and tell you that I don't really care for the more surreal modern sketch comedy by the interlocking troupes that made shows like The State, Stella, and Upright Citizens Brigade. This could be an important distinction, as The Ten is directed by Stella's David Wain, and it features a lot of performers from these groups. It also features heavy-hitter actors like Justin Theroux, Gretchen Moll, Oliver Platt, Liev Schreiber, and Winona Ryder, who all valiantly commit to material that is beneath them. Paul Rudd is also in it, and I have a massive man-crush on Paul Rudd. He can make me laugh at the drop of a hat. Literally. Put Paul Rudd in front of a camera and have him drop a hat, and I'll bust a gut.
Except in The Ten. Paul Rudd didn't get one of the handful of chuckles this movie somehow dragged out of me. That's significant, I think, since he was one of the producers and acts as an ersatz host of this debacle. The Ten manages to hobble the Rudd.
Conceptually, The Ten is a collection of sketches loosely connected by the Ten Commandments. Rudd introduces each one and acts as the ongoing example of "Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery" in a strained series of vignettes where he has the rather enviable position of cheating on Famke Janssen with Jessica Alba. That's what I call a high-class problem. Boo hoo.
The stories that fit with each commandment are neither humorous, thematically sound, nor even poignant. Rather, The Ten is more like The Decalogue as made by hyperactive juvenile delinquents who've gone off their meds. Which might explain why they didn't bother to look up the actual commandments, as they missed creating false images and just used coveting twice. For "Thou Shalt Have No Other God Before Me," the concept is that a dorky guy (Adam Brody) leaps out of an airplane without his parachute, ends up embedded in the ground up to his chest, and becomes a much-worshipped celebrity for doing so. From his hole in the Earth, he has a TV show, gets groupies, loses his fiancee (Ryder), and then has a huge flame out. Yeah, it's as dumb as it sounds, and this is what they choose to open with.
Other conceptually exciting gags hinge on your ability to giggle about saying the word "vagina" in Spanish, Winona Ryder humping a ventriloquist's dummy, the name "Dianne Wiest," or protracted conversations about anal rape. Now, as one of the few people who gave Let's Go to Prison a positive review, I have proof that I'm no prude when it comes to incarceration humor. Seriously, the prison sketch goes on way too long. Surely someone involved in this excruciating movie had to realize how tacky they were being?
I have a general rule about comedy: in order for something to be funny, the performer can't seem overly impressed with his own abilities. It's why I can barely tolerate Jack Black and stay completely away from anything with the words "Tenacious D" on it. Every move Jack Black makes, he turns to his audience and gives them that look that says, "Right? I'm hilarious, aren't I?" There isn't a moment in The Ten where the cast doesn't come across as self-satisfied. It's a smug movie made by smug people, and if there are any Ten Commandments of comedy, not being smug must certainly be one of them.
"Thou Shalt Always Keep The Audience Laughing" should be another. The Ten breaks that commandment in ten different ways.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent project is the superhero series It Girl and the Atomics and the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.