It seems that every review of The Ten, a comedy loosely inspired by the Ten Commandments, must mention Krzysztof Kieslowksi's miniseries The Decalogue, based on the same concept, even though the two really have little in common. Ironically, the latter, which was made for Polish TV, feels far more cinematic than the former, whose true home is Comedy Central's 1 a.m. "secret stash" screenings of uncut comedies. Watching The Ten in a movie theater is like watching a Saturday Night Live episode projected on the big screen. True, there are no commercials, but each of the 10 sketches, which last seven or eight minutes each, is bookended by a framing device about the complicated love life of narrator Jeff Reigert (Paul Rudd).
Writer/director David Wain and co-writer Ken Marino's sense of humor is more silly than genuinely witty, heavily reliant on non sequiturs. Some scenes are punctuated with brilliant bits of absurdity: a teenager pitching a reality show in the middle of a nuclear power plant accident, a guard reciting Shakespeare as he walks down a prison hallway. The first two sketches--in which a man buried in dirt becomes a TV star and a 35-year-old female virgin finds love with Jesus--work well enough to suggest real promise. The third one falls flat, however, getting bogged down in repetitive gags about a doctor who "goofs" his way into a murder conviction, and from there The Ten never regains its energy.
Wain has gathered a talented ensemble cast together. It's refreshing to see Liev Schreiber loosen up and do physical comedy and Winona Ryder take a part referring to her past as a shoplifter. But Rudd's scenes fall completely flat, despite his talent; extending his plot into a segment of its own, designed to illustrate the pitfalls of adultery, was a bad idea. Essentially, The Ten is a collection of shorts, and making a fully satisfying narrative work without the benefit of a running time that allows for space and development is extremely difficult.
Wain and Marino's script is far from reverent, but neither does it really poke fun at religion. Instead, the Ten Commandments are used as a vague conceptual backbone, sometimes thrown away altogether. Oddly, Kieslowski seems to be a real influence here: As in The Decalogue and his Three Colors trilogy, characters who pop up briefly in one episode turn out to be the protagonists of another. In an era where religion hangs so heavily over public life, a comedy that really dug deep and explored the ways in which our experience fails to live up to our ideals would be welcome. Alas, Wain is not Luis Bu˝uel or even Monty Python. Instead of cutting satire, The Ten settles for an entire sketch dedicated to the hilarity of prison rape.