Eugene Weekly : Movies : 9.20.07


Thou Shalt Not Walk Away Hungry
God’s rules, twisted

THE TEN: Directed by David Wain. Written by Wain and Ken Marino. Cinematography, Yaron Orbach. Music, Craig Wedren. Starring Paul Rudd, Adam Brody, Winona Ryder, Ken Marino, Famke Janssen, Gretchen Mol, Justin Theroux, Liev Schreiber, Jessica Alba and Michael Ian Black. THINKFilm, 2007. 95 minutes. R.

In the beginning was The State, and it was strange. I didn’t get it, which was rather embarrassing; everyone got The State. The MTV sketch comedy show was, like, the funniest thing ever. But everything in good time: Years later, I got it. It was the video compilation, Skits and Stickers, that finalized my getting it. Though the compilation was put together by MTV without the troupe’s help, it was well chosen, including Doug (“I’m ouuuutta here!”), $240 worth of pudding, the dancing hormones and the “Can I Go Play?” series. The nine-member cast included Michael Ian Black, Michael Showalter, David Wain, Kerri Kinney and Thomas Lennon, many of whom you may recognize from the likes of Wet Hot American Summer, Reno 911!, Sierra Mist commericals and various commentary bits during VH1 marathons.

Kelly LaFonda (Winona Ryder) chats up her new man in The Ten

After The State was sadly cancelled, Wain, Showalter and Black went on to lift many dollars from my wallet with “Stella,” which began life in 1997 as “a night of big room comedy” at New York’s Fez bar before becoming a Comedy Central series in 2005. “Stella,” in retrospect, is even more awesome than it was at the time with cocktails in hand. A look at the archives shows that many of the guests (Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Amy Poehler, Todd Barry, Sarah Silverman, Patton Oswalt) — like the three perpetually suit-clad hosts — have only gotten bigger and better since then.

But I digress. The reason for this long history is to explain that there is a lot of comedy background to The Ten, a film directed by David Wain and written by Wain and fellow State-ian Ken Marino (recently seen as the skeevy rival private dick on Veronica Mars). The humor might be strange if you’ve not been indoctrinated into the ways of these slicksters before; have you laughed at Lt. Dangle (Thomas Lennon) on Reno 911!? Do you (even secretly) giggle at Black’s Sierra Mist commericals? Then you are probably the target audience for The Ten, which borrows from the Bible and Krzysztof Kieslowski (as Wain admits in the production notes) in roughly equal parts.

The Ten plops Jeff Reigert (Paul Rudd) into a mostly empty room with two giant stone tablets bearing the Ten Commandments. Reigert, your host for the evening, is having some marital problems that repeatedly derail his attempts to introduce the 10 short stories that make up the film. Like Reigert’s intros and issues, the tales fall all over the funny-o-meter, but most have at least one moment of cackle-inducing fun: the drunken debauchery of Stephen Montgomery (Adam Brody), who’s stuck in the ground; the meta-humor of a thieving, dummy-obsessed woman played by Winona Ryder; the sly dryness of Justin Theroux as a Jesus H. Christ who’s just kind of having too good a time to get around to that whole apocalypse thing. Part of the humor comes simply from the casting — Gretchen Mol as a 35-year-old virginal librarian or Liev Schreiber as a guy trying a little too hard to keep up with his neighbor Paul (Joe Lo Truglio), who’s just purchased a CAT scan machine.

Wain and Marino’s humor — and that of their talented cast — is the kind that almost always goes a step too far before pulling back to find the very sharpest bit. The story about not coveting thy neighbor’s wife, for instance, takes place in prison: Glenn Richie (Marino), who’s “with” Big Buster (Michael Mulheren), is coveted by another inmate. The anal raping jokes just get a little too nasty before — phew! — Michael Ian Black turns up as an eyebrow-waggling guard, spouting what sounds like Shakespeare. In another short, an animated rhino craps little piles of poo — that sprout flowers. But in the end, it’s all about love. No, seriously: The whole cast tells you this in a massively amusing finale. The Ten is far from perfect, but it’s a conversation piece, and it definitely succeeds in Wain’s directorial vision: “When the movie is over,” he says in press notes, “I hope that people have laughed, had a nice time, and are thinking about where they want to go eat.” Personally? I could go for some sushi.

The Ten opens Friday, Sept. 21 at the Bijou