The Ten

Stuart Henderson

A high-speed collision between Krzysztof Kieślowski's Dekalog and Woody Allen’s Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex.

The Ten

Director: David Wain
Cast: Paul Rudd, Jessica Alba, Winona Ryder, Adam Brody, Gretchen Mol, Famke Janssen, Rob Corddry
MPAA rating: R
Studio: ThinkFilm
First date: 2007
US DVD Release Date: 2008-01-15

If you were a fan of Wet Hot American Summer, David Wain’s uproariously bizarre send-up of '80s-era summer camp comedies, you might have been, as I was, excited about The Ten. Wet Hot American Summer was so funny, so unpredictable, so gloriously low budget, and yet so astonishingly clever, that it made repeated viewing a profound pleasure. It was the very definition of the cult movie – relentlessly odd, hugely divisive, and probably even more awesome if you watch it stoned. There are things about that picture I’ll never forget – Molly Shannon falling in love with a precocious (and sexually manipulative) 8-year-old boy springs to mind – and which have stood for me as comedic benchmarks ever since.

But The Ten, Wain’s lackadaisical attempt to poke fun at biblical law, is disappointing. Far less cohesive than even Wet Hot American Summer, and certainly stranger than it is intellectual, The Ten takes a neutron bomb of a premise – ten vignettes, one on each of the Ten Commandments – and then sort of diffuses it. Perhaps that was part of the joke, to set us up for a clever attack on piety and social convention and then just not really do anything with it, but that’s far funnier to talk about than to sit through. Actually, that’s just about the best way I can think to describe this viewing experience: as I sit here now, some of the jokes that I stared at blank-faced on my TV are suddenly kind of amusing. A few are even hilarious.

But: is a comedy successful if it makes you laugh only later, upon reflection?

The Ten is basically a high-speed collision between Krzysztof Kieślowski's Dekalog and Woody Allen’s Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex. Relying on a surprisingly celebrity-heavy group of actors (including Liev Schrieber, Adam Brody and Jessica Alba) to fill out the space around Wain mainstays Paul Rudd and Ken Marino (who co-wrote with Wain), part of the pleasure here lies in wondering how each particular commandment is going to be broken, and part of it lies in watching impossibly successful people do disgusting and insane things.

Rudd, for example, plays our Moses character. He occupies a darkened soundstage flanked by two stone tablets listing the Commandments. His wife, the absurdly beautiful Famke Janssen, bores him. His girlfriend, the bubbly and game Alba, excites him. As Rudd returns between each of the ten episodes to introduce the next, we watch a slight narrative wherein he leaves Janssen (moron!) and moves in with Alba, only to eventually discover that the grass isn’t always greener. This little conceit drives the action, and builds to a satisfyingly funny conclusion (which makes the most random reference to Diane Weist that has ever been made, ever). But, that storyline is merely here for glue.

The main action takes place in the brief, batshit episodes that purport to explore the foundations of Western morality and law. Without giving anything away (not that there’s a plot, per se, but many of these gags rely on surprise and, well, shock) you will see a young man embedded in the ground, Jesus Christ as a Cassanova, two neighbors competing over the size of their collections of CatScan machines, Oliver Platt playing an Arnold Schwarzenegger/Arsenio Hall impersonator, Winona Ryder as a puppet-obsessed sex-fiend, and a beyond-homoerotic love story between two prison inmates. Some of the casting is good for a laugh – guess which commandment klepto-Ryder stars in? – and the marriage play on Thou Shalt Not Covet thy Neighbour’s Wife is an inspired goof.

The real joy on this DVD is watching the film’s commentary, outtakes, and other special features. These are truly hilarious people, with quirky, borderline nuts-o sensibilities. Their perfectly amusing banter is mostly meaningless, but always entertaining. Plus, there’s soothing jazz and Wain’s parents. But, since nothing about the movie they’re commenting on seems to have been designed to add up to anything, since its purpose appears only to make us scratch our heads and turn to our companion in perplexed wonder, it’s all a little tough to evaluate.

The Ten is funny. It’s weird. And, it’s weirdly funny. But, it isn’t, after all, as funny as it is weird.






A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.