- Rated R
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All photos © City Lights
Reviewed by Will Harris
here haven’t been many comedies released during the last decade which have resulted in more wildly divergent opinions than “Wet Hot American Summer.” Co-written by David Wain (who also directed) and Michael Showalter, it’s one of those films that shoots right past the point of being a love-it-or-hate-it flick and straight into the realm of, “These are the funniest 97 minutes in the history of motion pictures,” and “If I live to be a hundred, I’ll never see a stupider movie than this one.”
Unsurprisingly, Wain’s second directorial effort, “The Ten,” will likely serve to inspire the same kinds of reactions. Granted, it’s a clever idea to build a film that consists of ten individual segments, each one inspired by one of the Ten Commandments, and link them together via recurring appearances by a narrator. The problem, however, isn’t the concept; it’s that the things Wain and his collaborator, Ken Marino, find to be funny are all over the place, resulting in a comedy that only the most schizophrenic viewers will enjoy from start to finish. What makes it all the more frustrating is how hilarious it is when it does work.
Take the second story, for instance, where a mousy librarian (Gretchen Mol) travels to Mexico for the summer and ends up in a sexual liaison with a bearded gentlemen (Justin Theroux) who comes from, shall we say, a religious background. Okay, fine: he’s Jesus. Yes, the real Jesus Jesus. Turns out he’s totally gonna do this Rapture thing, but he kind of has to build to it, so why not enjoy the summer, y’know? The segment takes the whole “Under the Tuscan Moon” type of flick and completely turns it on its ear, but you might already have a suspicion as to the context of when the Lord’s name is taken in vain.
Also hilarious, albeit in a far more surreal manner, are the stories which remind us to “Honor Thy Mother and Thy Father” and that “Thou Shalt Worship No God Before Me.” In the latter, Adam Brody falls out of a plane without a parachute and, as a result, ends up becoming an unlikely media superstar; he can’t keep his fiancée (Winona Ryder), but he does at least end up with his own sitcom. The former, though, is such a bizarre concept – a Caucasian woman doesn’t want to tell her two black children the truth about their father, so she tells them their dad is Arnold Schwarzenegger and hires an Arnold impersonator (Oliver Platt) to perpetuate the lie – that you just have to accept it and laugh.
Even the last tale, surrounding “Remember the Sabbath and Keep It Holy,” has some great moments revolving around a bunch of guys who’ve decided that, instead of going to church, they’re just going to hang around the house naked. Actually, it’s not all that funny, but it warrants mention because it wraps up with a naked song-and-dance number which features one of the best couplets of all time: “See, our cracks and our taints / Are as clean as a saint’s.”
It’s the lowbrow stories that really drag the film down. Two separate tales – “Thou Shalt Not Kill” and “Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor’s Wife” – involve life in prison, with the latter’s focus on male-on-male rape being downright cringeworthy. There’s also an animated sequence, which spotlights “Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness” but ends up being more repulsive than “Fritz the Cat” even dreamed of. Other stories simply don’t work as well on film as they probably did on paper, like the premise of Liev Schrieber coveting his neighbor’s CAT scan machine.
The framing device is consistently entertaining, providing Paul Rudd and Famke Janssen with the opportunity to spar back and forth (and for Jessica Alba to show up for maybe a minute and a half of screen time), but with its all-over-the-place comedic sensibilities, it’s no wonder that “The Ten” only saw limited theatrical release.
Single-Disc DVD Review:
As befits a film which is destined to have a sizable cult audience before long, “The Ten” has been tricked out with the kind of stuff that obsessive fans live to view. In addition to audio commentary with Wain, Marino, Rudd (as well as Wain’s parents and a jazz musician who chimes in with soothing riffs when the need arises) and an interview with the trio from the 2007 SXSW Film Festival, there are also deleted scenes, trailers, a making-of featurette, and the first episode of Wain’s online series, “Wainy Days.”