The First Commandment of Comedy: Thou shalt not bore the audience.
On that level at least, The Ten is a smashing success because you can't look away waiting to see where this excitingly weird comedy is heading, even as it's barreling toward catastrophe. Written by David Wain and Ken Marino and featuring cameos from the rest of the massive cast of former cult MTV sketch series The State, the movie plays like an extended and highly erratic episode, spinning from gag to gag like an ADD-afflicted middle schooler on a Jolt cola binge.
Based loosely around the notion of illustrating the Ten Commandments, it's all a ruse to string one droll concept after the other, some of which are dead on arrival while others spiral off on hilariously absurd tangents. In "Thou Shall Not Commit Murder," Marino plays a ridiculously arrogant surgeon who leaves his operating tools in a patient "as a goof," setting up a later bit totally devoted to extremely uncomfortable set of prison rape jokes. In short, this features the kind of stunt work you couldn't talk Evel Knievel into trying, yet somehow director Wain roped in a collection of guest star actors not known for their funny bones. Witness Liev Schreiber's deadpan perfection as a jealous suburban dad at war with his neighbor over who can collect the most CAT scan machines. Winona Ryder has a scream, literally, during a vigorous sex scene with a ventriloquist dummy (no doubt a better kisser than that Counting Crows ass-hat). Unfortunately, eye candy Jessica Alba tosses in an equally wooden performance. Goofball Oliver Platt is predictably amusing, but who knew Gretchen Mol had comedy chops?
When it flops, it flops hard; as in an awful piece about a cheating husband with the overexposed Paul Rudd, whose charm can't overcome indifferent writing. The humor is scattershot, the dick jokes are sometimes limp, and the very premise is bound to aggravate the crap out of some, but one must respect them for trying, failing and trying again.
Showing exclusively at the Birmingham 8, 211 S. Old Woodward Ave., Birmingham; 248-644-3456.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].