MasterChugs Theater: ‘The Ten’

This past weekend, a friend of mine had a cookout at his house. This is big news, because here in Virginia, you can never be truly sure of what the weather will be like in March. It could 30-some degrees and below freezing with oncoming snow or it could be 80 degrees and humid as could be. Luckily, it was a gorgeous 60 degrees with nary a cloud in the sky. I could not ask for better temperatures in order to drink copious amounts of alcohol and searing the flesh of birds.

And then the very next day, I screwed up the weekend by watching The Ten.

Director David Wain uses Paul Rudd as a narrator in the framing device to show vignettes depicting the ten commandments. It’s a catchy concept. It has a very high-profile cast (outside of Rudd): Winona Ryder, Gretchen Mol, Jessica Alba, Oliver Platt, Rob Corddry, Tom Lennon, Rashida Jones, Ken Marino, Ben Garant, Joe Lo Truglio, Jason Sudekis and Liev Schreiber are among the many glamorous talents herein assembled.

If only it were that easy.

All that’s missing are the laughs. Any laughs. The Ten is a virtually snicker-free exercise in audience pain. It’s less a movie than an endurance test. The problem lies in the approach: Each commandment is “illustrated” by an absurdist comic situation that relates to it only tangentially before going further off the rails. “Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods Before Me” concerns a man who becomes a celebrity after a sky-diving accident leaves him forever embedded in the ground; the sequence falls apart into sub-Python newscaster bickering.

“Thou Shalt Not Murder” features a slick surgeon who leaves medical instruments inside a patient “as a goof,” and that’s pretty much the joke. “Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor’s Goods” is about a contest between two suburbanites to see who can amass the most CAT-scan machines. “Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor’s Wife” is a thwarted prison romance between the jailed surgeon and a fellow inmate.

Linking these skits is an even less funny story line involving the narrator (Rudd) torn between his beautiful shrew of a wife (Famke Janssen) and clingy mistress (Alba). The stale fear-of-women humor might be bearable if the script weren’t so relentlessly witless. “Do you know what ‘The Ten’ is?” asks Rudd rhetorically at one point, before continuing, ” ‘Ten’-is? Tennis? Tennis, anyone?”

How about “squander?” Are you aware of that word?