July 16, 2013

A passionate defense of The Ten.

David Wain is one of the fathers of modern alternative comedy, and The Ten is -- to me -- the most lovable of his many offspring.

Sure, Wet Hot American Summer is a cult classic, and -- unlike Wain's other movies -- lots of people actually paid to see Role Models in theaters.

But for fans of extremely irreverent comedy, it doesn't get any better than The Ten.


When the trailer on its own is this weird, you know you're in for a good time.

Deadpan humor and an endless string of callbacks are woven through 10 stories (read: sketches) that loosely depict each of the Ten Commandments. But the jokes -- if you could even call them that -- pile up to ridiculous heights, as if Wain and co-writer (and co-star) Ken Marino kept trying to top each other until there was literally nowhere left to go.

That doesn't mean everything builds to an unexpected dick or a fart joke, although the last few minutes of the movie are indeed packed with nude men. For Wain and Marino, a passionate romance between a librarian and Jesus Christ (yes, that Jesus Christ) wraps up with...a casual meeting years later in St. Louis, where Jesus is a sales rep attending a prosthetics convention. A neighborhood feud between two middle-aged men turns into a family-ruining rivalry, a Bonnie Raitt hum-a-long and, eventually, the death of numerous innocent children. Two fatherless African-American children learn to love an Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonator, even when they discover their real dad is Arsenio Hall.

And who are the stars of this outrageous film, you ask? You've got Joe Lo Truglio and a plethora of fellow The State alums; you've got the wondrous voice of H. Jon Benjamin; you've got Delocated's Mather Zickel playing a character he'd go on to reprise in not only Childrens Hospital but also his own show, Newsreaders. In the first of his two segments, he's a pompous newscaster who spits before each shot. In the second, he's a shell of a man, beaten out for the woman he loves by a ventriloquist's dummy with a hard wooden dick.


But it's not just Wain's traditional stable of alternative comedians who are on hand. Liev Schreiber displays expert comic timing as one of the two aforementioned men engaged in a battle for CAT scan machine supremacy. Ron Silver plays a Hollywood agent -- with the ventriloquist (and dummy) as his assistant -- who turns a guy stuck in the ground (Adam Brody) into a TV star. Jessica Alba pops in for four or five minutes of narrative propulsion and baby voices. A pre-Mad Men Jon Hamm utters one unforgettable line: "I don't goof."

Famke Janssen leaves Paul Rudd for an anchorman with a very large penis. Justin Theroux -- the man tasked with playing the son of God -- seduces Gretchen Mol in Mexico. Rob Corddry rapes Marino, with his implicit permission, in a prison cell. There are a few great shots of A.D. Miles' butt.

Suffice it to say that The Ten is not for everyone. If I tried to get my 57-year-old father to watch this movie, he'd be resisting the urge to punch me in the face after a few minutes.

And that's what makes it so spectacular. It feels like a bunch of movie stars got together and made a very strange movie for your amusement, and yours alone. Or, to be more grandiose, it brings about the realization that you share a partial sense of humor with Sabretooth and the Invisible Woman.

The Ten made $785,528 at the worldwide box office; its investors are probably still kicking themselves. Not many people talk about it; I suspect even fewer remember it exists. But I insist that, to a certain small subset of humanity with very curious ideas about what constitutes humor, it's a masterpiece.

David Wain and Ken Marino took 10 outrageous ideas, turned them into lengthy sketches and used a loose narrative to form them into some sort of motion picture. That kind of filmmaking won't win you any awards or make anyone a lot of money, but it allows for the kind of freedom that most other movies only dream of. And, more importantly, it ensured that scenes like the one below were released to the movie-going public, and will exist -- on DVD and the Internet and all to-be-invented forms of digital entertainment -- forever:


UPDATE: Wow. Hooray, the Internet!


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