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'The Ten' fails miserably in lampooning 10 Commandments

The Ten

(NR)

If you think religion or faith can't provide the basis for a good comedy, think again. Remember Monty Python's "Life of Brian?" Maybe you saw "Commandments," the excellent 1997 black comedy starring Courteney Cox, Aidan Quinn and Anthony LaPaglia.

"The Ten" is the twisted, very tasteless, dead-ugly stepsister of "Commandments." It is comprised of 10 short vignettes, each of which is loosely based on one of the Ten Commandments. "Loosely" is the operative word here. If it weren't for the clunky introduction to each segment by narrator Jeff (Paul Rudd), we'd have nary a clue of exactly which commandment was being broken.

Jeff is a man who is suffering through his own moral quandary. Should he stay with his shrewish, overbearing wife Gretchen (Famke Janssen) or leave her for his vacuous, smothering girlfriend Liz (Jessica Alba)?

In between that pitiful story are ultra-lame skits that would have a hard time making the final cut on "Saturday Night Live" these days. The "thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife" bit takes place in a men's prison. "Thou shalt not commit adultery" involves a wanton Winona Ryder having adult relations with a wooden ventriloquist's dummy.

Satire regularly pushes the good-taste envelope, but only successful satire knows when to tighten the reigns - like "SNL" did in the '70s. Satire also requires a recognizable connection to the subject it is lampooning. There isn't one word of dialogue or a set-up in "The Ten" that gets close to either of those bedrock requirements. You won't find a single second of genuine humor in the entirety of this film.

Is a spinster librarian (Gretchen Mol) losing her virginity to Jesus Christ (Justin Theroux) while on vacation in Mexico funny? If handled in the right way ... maybe. Naked heterosexual men getting together every Sunday, listening to EZ jazz while avoiding the Sabbath? Not even. And that's the rub. At least nine of the 10 skits are so far removed from any degree of measurable believability - or relatable humor - their points get buried beneath a dung heap of pompous, faux intellectualism.

"The Ten" was co-written by Ken Marino (also appearing in both the "murder" and "covet" segments) and director David Wain, who previously worked together on the cult series "The State" and the feature film "Wet Hot American Summer." While neither venture was very memorable, both showed marginal comic promise.

Here, the filmmakers' biggest coup was in landing the services of so many high-profile, largely talented performers. Most of the actors bring with them marked levels of respectability. None of their careers were in such a state of backslide or disrepair to force them to show up in something this base and pointless (well, maybe Ryder).

Along with the filmmakers, every performer involved deserves equal blame for this horrific atrocity. (Thinkfilm)

Opens exclusively at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema, 931 Monroe Drive, Atlanta. Call 678-495-1424 or visit www.landmarktheatres.com.