The Ten

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South By Southwest

AUSTIN -- "Dekalog" it ain't. But like Krzysztof Kieslowski's masterwork, David Wain's new comedy "The Ten" uses the famous set of stone-carved commandments for purposes Moses never imagined, hatching a collection of occasionally interlocking stories that substitute a singular artistic perspective for the Supreme Being's. Expect a strong cult attraction, but the nature and variety of gags -- and a slew of marquee guest appearances -- should spell mainstream appeal beyond the niches of the filmmaker's earlier work on "The State" and "Stella."

Broken into a double handful of stand-alone segments, the film is glued together by intros from Paul Rudd, playing an exasperated husband on the verge of a mortal sin or two himself. The sketches are unified only by an anything-goes hunger for jokes -- if sex with a ventriloquist's dummy seems to be the strangest place a segment can go, that's what's going to happen. (And it won't be the weirdest sex you see here, either.)

The grab-bag approach comes across not as desperate flailing but as the product of restless comic imaginations that would rather bounce to the next idea than milk the previous one for every drop. Some viewers may be exhausted by the barrage, but few will complain of not getting their money's worth.

While big names in the cast might be expected to drop in for the comic shock of a cameo and then vanish to let career comedians carry the weight, drama-leaning stars such as Gretchen Mol and Liev Schreiber dive in gamely, appearing in multiple segments. Wain accommodates them by spoofing the settings they'd be at home in -- Mol in the self-discovery travel tale, mustachioed Schreiber as a police detective -- before letting them stretch out, fully embracing the silliness around them. (Winona Ryder takes top honors in the Sacrificing Dignity for Laughs department.)

If Wain and co-screenwriter Ken Marino don't put much stock in their source material -- the connection between commandment and plot is often barely discernible -- they also have no interest in being saddled with a single style of humor, happily sliding from a sight gag like a pedicab drawn by a one-legged man straight into a meta moment in which a character comments on the stereotypical way his community is drawn.

Just as Wain's "Wet Hot American Summer" evoked the summer-camp comedies of the late '70s, this free-associative ride recalls cult classics like "The Kentucky Fried Movie," albeit with less reliance on parody. It's uproarious enough that one easily can imagine "Ten" being as beloved by the comic writers of tomorrow as those films clearly were to a grade-school David Wain.

THE TEN
ThinkFilm
City Lights Pictures, Mega Films, Shot Put Films
Credits:
Director: David Wain
Screenwriters: Ken Marino, David Wain
Producers: Jonathan Stern, Ken Marino, David Wain, Paul Rudd, Morris S. Levy
Executive producers: Danny Fisher, Sam Zietz, Jack Fisher, Michael Almog
Director of photography: Yaron Orbach
Production designer: Mark White
Costume designer: Sarah J. Holden
Music: Craig Wedren
Co-producers: Derrick Tseng, Marcus Lansdell
Editor: Eric Kissack
Cast:
Jeff Reigert: Paul Rudd
Gretchen Reigert: Famke Janssen
Kelly La Fonda: Winona Ryder
Jesus H. Christ: Justin Theroux
Ray Johnson: Liev Schreiber
Gloria Jennings: Gretchen Mol
Duane Rosenblum: Rob Corddry
Stephen Montgomery: Adam Brody
Liz Anne Blazer: Jessica Alba
Running time -- 99 minutes
No MPAA rating
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