It’s impossible to write about David Wain’s The Ten without first making passing reference to Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Dekalog and Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life. The former, originally made for Polish TV 20 years ago and first shown in the United States in 2000, offered a modern-day take on the Ten Commandments, interpreting each within the confines of a Warsaw apartment complex, with guilt and tragedy the driving forces behind the director’s beseeching meditation on God’s Rules of Order. The latter, of course, found the English comedy troupe bidding adieu with fierce and occasionally grotesque bluster (care for a mint?). Never had their comedy—here sliced into vignettes and infused with a disdain for religiosity always hinted at but never before made so obvious—seemed so ugly and angry (despite some catchy tunes).
The Ten, obsessed with prison rape and puppet dicks, doesn’t exactly possess the grand ambitions of Kieslowski’s work; nor does it seethe with the ham-fisted (albeit melodic) fury of the Pythons’ finale. It’s from the guys who brought you Wet Hot American Summer, a film whose sole ambition was to remake Meatballs, and it’s just a star-studded “goof,” in the parlance of co-writer/co-star Ken Marino’s surgeon, who’s keen on leaving instruments inside his patients’ bodies because it makes him giggle. (He’s the “Thou shalt not kill” commandment, natch.) More often than not, you’ll laugh, and that’s all you can hope for in what might as well be a prolonged episode of The State, from which several of the cast and creators sprang.
Featuring recurring characters who glide in and out of the sketches, The Ten‘s biggest letdown are the interstitial sequences featuring Paul Rudd, usually the best thing about some of the worst movies. Rudd acts as the film’s narrator, only he keeps getting interrupted by his nagging wife (Famke Janssen) and his girlfriend (Jessica Alba), who, for some reason, wants a pony. Their love triangle overwhelms and ultimately deflates the movie, halting whatever momentum builds from sketch to sketch. Nothing gets in the way of a good prison-rape joke like romantic comedy.