Moses' storied tablets get the sketch-comedy treatment in
, a hit-and-miss omnibus inspired by the Ten Commandments and brought to blasphemous, surreal life by a game troupe that includes Paul Rudd, Famke Janssen, Winona Ryder, Adam Brody, Jessica Alba, Rob Corddry, Gretchen Mol, Justin Theroux and Liev Schreiber.
Directed by David Wain, and written by Wain and Ken Marino - both of the '90s cult comedy gang (and MTV show) the State - The Ten handles its "shalts" and "shalt nots" in profane, irreverent, nutball ways. A poker-faced Rudd, hosting from a bare stage furnished with two giant stones engraved with the biblical decrees, introduces the chapters - and occasionally takes a break to spar with his ex (Janssen) and his giddy new girlfriend (Alba).
First off is "Thou shalt have no other god before me." Its Monty Pythonesque absurdism is typical of the rest: An engaged couple (Brody and Ryder) go skydiving, but he exits the plane without his 'chute. He survives the fall, but is lodged torso-deep in the ground; if he's moved, he'll die. The media swarm, a cult forms, a hit sitcom is built around him (literally), and so on.
Mol stars as a 35-year-old virgin who finally gets deflowered - in lusty romance-novel fashion on a trip to Mexico. Her hunky lover boy's name? Jesus Christ (played by Theroux). The segment? "Thou shalt not take the Lord's name in vain."
One segment is animated (by Aaron Augenblick) and has to do with a lying rhino, a roomful of crack heads, and a pack of dachshunds spreading AIDS; another plays off "the Sabbath day" commandment, showing a guy getting naked with his buddies while his wife and kids are at church.
The "Thy neighbor's wife" bit is set in a prison, where a new prisoner (Corddry) can't keep his eyes off another (male) convict, who's already spoken for. You know where the jokes are going in that one.
A few characters appear in dueling commandments. Ryder, the dismayed fiance in the film's first episode, lets things fly in the "Thou shalt not steal" segment: as a newlywed who falls for a ventriloquist's dummy, the actress displays a heretofore little-seen, and seemingly effortless, comic insanity. Her sloppy, barroom make-out session with the wooden doll is not to be missed.
Is it just coincidence that all this Old Testament stuff is making its way to movie screens right now? The Ten, admittedly, is not Krzysztof Kieslowski's Decalogue. Wain's pieces are just jumping-off points for screwball improv and inspired throwaways. (My favorite: "Thou shalt not commit adultery," in which Rudd's character encounters Janssen's on the street and ever-so-casually drops the fact that he's remarried - to Woody Allen leading lady Diane Wiest.)
But with The Reaping, in which Hilary Swank must contend with the biblical plagues, opening in theaters today, there is an awful lot of fire, brimstone and moral reflection going on right now. Repent, ye sinners!