Inspired, no doubt, by Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Dekalog” series, “The Ten” presents a series of wildly uneven vignettes purportedly inspired, however tenuously, by the Ten Commandments. As one might expect from director David Wain, whose past successes include the pitch-perfect “Wet Hot American Summer” and MTV’s “The State,” it is a comedy, and an unapologetically blasphemous one at that: Those seeking a serious meditation on Biblical law will find themselves disappointed long before Winona Ryder decides to seduce a ventriloquist’s dummy. Others will be disappointed for different reasons.
For one thing, “The Ten” simply isn’t very funny, despite its impressive pedigree and a uniformly talented cast featuring the likes of Paul Rudd, Rob Corddry, Oliver Platt and Famke Janssen. Curiously, Rudd, whose wry deadpan proved indispensable in Judd Apatow comedies like “The 40 Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up,” is used here mostly as a straight man, the host in charge of introducing stories that are only loosely connected and drift along, often without any real destination.
There are flashes of inspired comedy. The opening segment (“Thou shalt have no other gods before me”) tells the bittersweet tale of Stephen (Adam Brody), who goes skydiving but neglects to wear his parachute; he winds up neck-deep in the ground and completely paralyzed, useless to his grieving fiancée, Kelly (Ryder). All is not lost, though — Stephen soon becomes a cult hero, even a sitcom star, before his “Behind the Music”-style meltdown.
Stephen’s tale has a smart, cynical edge that surfaces every now and again in “The Ten,” but too much of the film is dedicated to one-note sketches that miss their marks. One involves a surgeon (Ken Marino) with a sneaky habit of deliberately leaving his instruments inside his patients (“Thou shall not kill”); he spends the rest of the film in prison, where he is repeatedly raped by fellow inmates.
It is an irritating, aggressively tone-deaf sequence that revels in its own bad taste, and perhaps that was enough to amuse Wain and Marino, who share screenwriting credits. As with many of the leaden jokes in “The Ten,” though, the laughs are lost on the audience.
The Ten **
Starring Paul Rudd, Famke Janssen, Gretchen Mol, Jessica Alba, Winona Ryder, Rob Corddry
Written by Ken Marino, David Wain
Directed by David Wain
Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes