Ten, The

Sundance Film Fest 2007 (Park City at Midnight)–Comprised of ten blasphemous vignettes, each inspired by one of the Biblical Commandments, David Wain's “The Ten” goes out of its way to be irreverent and hilarious, but end result is mixed blessing, an anthology in which three or four of the segments are worth watching.

A word of warning: This “Ten” is not to be confused with the late Polish director Krzystof Kieslowski's masterpiece, “Decalogue” (“The Ten Commandments”), made in 1988 for Polish TV and later shown in its entirety in film festivals, such as Venice in 1989, and museums' retrospectives. In this cycle, set in a shabby Polish apartment building, each modern story represented one of the Biblical Commandments.

An illustrious cast, headed by the gifted and attractive Winona Ryder, Paul Rudd, Jessica Alba and Live Schreiber, elevates the compilation considerably, though theatrical release should be brief, with the promise of considerably more viewers when “The Ten” is released on DVD. At Sundance Fest, the comedy was shown in the Midnight Section, along with Gregg Araki's “Smiley Face,” “Fido,” and other selections.

As is often the case of anthologies, some of the skits are smart and witty, while other just plain and stupid. The good news is to see director and co-writer David Wain returning to the Sundance Festival with a semi-subversive, multi-layered comedy, very much in the vein of “Wet Hot American Summer,” “The State,” and “Stella.”

With each story told in a different style, but containing overlapping characters and themes, the film is a showcase for burlesque, aiming to put the notion of sin back in cinema.

Functioning as narrator with his own problems, the charismatic Paul Rudd introduces a series of goofy acts, each based on one of the Ten Commandments. At the end, everyone is united for a finale that tries to answer the initial query, “What's It All About”

I like the story of a careless skydiver who becomes an accidental celeb. A guy leaps from an airplane, smashes into the ground, miraculously survives and becomes a media sensation, though he may be stuck in the ground forever. Winona Ryder stars in one of the best segments as a newly-married woman who falls head over hills with a ventriloquist's dummy. Cast against type, the sexy Gretchen Moll plays a virgin, who has an affair with Jesus Christ (yes, you read it right) in the very Catholic Mexico.

In another setting, a doctor leaves a surgical instrument within a patient's body as a “goof,” and is sent to jail when she dies. Then we switch to a couple of bickering neighbors who compete aggressively over who can gather the largest number of Cat-scan machines.

Less successful is the episode in which a white femme raising black sons explains that their father is none other than Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, played by the chubby comedian, Oliver Platt.

Not to neglect animation cinema, there is an animated act, in which a rhino learns about a crying wolf. A suburban husband begins a new fad that involves naked men (rest cannot be told without spoiling the fun).

As noted, narrator Rudd has a moral quandary of his own. A womanizer, the very married Rudd leaves his loyal wife Famke Janssen and run offs with the younger and more beautiful Jessica Alba, only to desert her for the older and more experienced Dianne Weist.

Fortunately, writers Ken Marino and David Wain show acute awareness of the limitations of their format, which runs 93 minutes, hence allocating no more than 6-8 minutes to each episode. The brevity is a major plus for such a picture, which also offers the side benefit of spotting the stars, often cast against their established screen image.

For this anthology to work, it really needs to be wild and subversive, and with all the promised blasphemy, I found “The Ten” lacking those qualities. Even so, I found myself smiling during at least one third of the picture, which is not a bad ratio for a comedy of that type.

Director Alert

After presenting his student film, “Aisle Six,” at the 1993 Sundance Film Festival, David Wain began his career with the MTV comedy show, “The State.” A New York based director, writer, and actor, Wain helmed and co-wrote the cultish “Wet Hot American Summer,” shown at the 2001 Sundance Film Fest, and named by EW one of the Top 10 Films of the Year. In 2005, he starred in “Stella,” a Comedy Central series, for which he also served as creator, exec-producer, co-writer and director.

As an actor, Wain can be seen in the upcoming Tom DeCillo comedy, “Delirious.”

Credits

Directed by: David Wain
Written by: David Wain and Ken Marino
Starring: Paul Rudd, Jessica Alba, Winona Ryder, Adam Brody, Gretchen Mol, Famke Janssen, Rob Corddry, Liev Schreiber, Oliver Platt, Justin Theroux and Ken Marino

Release Date: August 3, 2007
Running Time: 93 minutes