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The Ten 

I’m not quite certain what to do with The Ten — the patently, almost aggressively absurd(ist) bundle of comic anarchy from The State/Stella/Wet Hot American Summer/The Baxter alumni David Wain, Ken Marino, et al. (And I do mean “et al.”: The film is replete with faces old and new, a sprawling panoply of notables peppered liberally with pleasant surprises, from Ron Silver to Liev Schreiber to SNL’s Jason Sudeikis.) Director-cowriter Wain (in a shamelessly YouTube-culled interview with the Sundance Channel), more of an authority on the subject, calls The Ten “quite similar to `Krzysztof Kielowski’s highly-regarded film cycle` The Decalogue, except for that it’s much shorter and really stupid.”

Naturally, he’s right. The Ten is certainly stupid. That’s not what’s troubling here — or at least, not exactly. It’s the formidable variety and inconsistency of the stupidity on display that’s left me flummoxed.

In brief: Wain and company give us 10 sketches/short films, each derived or somehow (shoestring-tangentially, in some cases) from one of the biblical ten commandments. Adam Brody falls from the sky and becomes (1) embedded in the earth and (2) an overnight mammoth celebrity in order that we might learn a lesson about idolatry. An exquisitely stonefaced Schreiber becomes enmeshed in a deadly game of keeping up with the Joneses (by stockpiling CAT-scan apparata). Winona Ryder shoplifts — and enthusiatically humps — an inanimate object. Be not deceived, o ye of traditional, Bible-loving faiths or easily-offended sensibilities: By the time Justin Theroux materializes onscreen as a tired-of-saving-and-celibacy, smoldering-Latin-lover interpretation of Jesus, it will be well apparent that The Ten offers a less-than-conventional reading of the tablets.

Wet Hot American Summer is howlingly, daringly entertaining for its boundless confidence and unabashed commitment to brilliantly harebrained, Pythonesque silliness. And so is The Ten, in spots. There are a number of smart-stupid or wittily self-referential moments, even entire sketches (namely, a prison-set Marino/Rob Corddry bit), that work sublimely. The problem is that the moments in which it isn’t that (a mind-boggling Paul Rudd-as-narrator device falls resoundingly flat) seem to be not the exception, but, well, the rule.

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December 2, 2020

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