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Thou Shalt Not

January 7th, 2011 · No Comments

“Portmanteau” is French for “coat rack”. Lewis Carroll appropriated the word in 1871 for Through The Looking Glass to explain two words merged into one; “chortle” is a portmanteau Carroll invented, while “Internet”, “blog” and “sexploitation” are three he did not. In the month of January, I’ll take a look at portmanteau films, where we find different coats hanging in the same closet, whether tailored by one filmmaker or the collaborative effort of several.

The Ten (2007)
Directed by David Wain
Written by Ken Marino & David Wain
Produced by Jonathan Stern, Ken Marino, David Wain, Paul Rudd, Morris S. Levy
96 minutes

Few portmanteau films can maintain a steady course throughout, but The Ten is a barrel of monkeys going over Niagara Falls. Ken Marino & David Wain met in 1993 as writers for the MTV sketch comedy series The State, which Wain co-created. The show’s cult following kept it on the air for three short seasons and ultimately, most of the cast formed the core of Reno: 911! on Comedy Central. Marino & Wain continued to write, riffing on the Ten Commandments until they had material to fill the script for a feature film. Producer Jonathan Stern got involved after working with the pair on Diggers, a little seen 2006 drama written by Marino and executive produced by Wain. Their lead actor Paul Rudd also joined as a producer. The Ten got a pass by the major studios, but Danny Fisher of City Lights Media Group and Morris S. Levy of MEGA Films were able to raise roughly $4 million in financing.

Shot in 28 days in Los Angeles, New York and Mexico City, the film was screened for the first time at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, where THINKFilm acquired North American distribution rights and gave it a very limited theatrical release that August in the U.S. The Ten is like a camp for grownups where college humor lives forever. It flounders between obnoxious and tasteless, which would be okay if it were funnier. Using the same blueprint as Wain’s feature film debut Wet Hot American Summer (2001) — the last time Janeane Garafalo was given something to do in a live action movie — The Ten gift wraps Winona Ryder for her best work in decades, maybe ever, with Thou Shalt Not Steal by far the best of the sketches. Augenblick Studios provided the second best piece, an animated one. The rest of the material may bore anybody who’s already declared a major.

Entering stage in front of two giant tablets, Jeff Riegert (Paul Rudd) is harangued by his wife Gretchen (Famke Janssen) as he introduces ten stories inspired by the Ten Commandments. A skydiving mishap confines a man (Adam Brody) to a hole, where celebrity worship goes to his head. A chaste librarian (Gretchen Mol) travels to Mexico, where she takes the Lord’s name in vain by discovering her lover (Justin Theroux) is really Jesus Christ. A doctor (Ken Marino) pays the price for killing a patient as a “goof”. Two black teenagers (Cedric Sanders, Arlen Escapeta) humor their white mother (Kerri Kenney) when she brings home an Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonator (Oliver Platt) to pose as their biological father. Two neighbors (Liev Schreiber, Joe Lo Truglio) covet each other’s goods and compete to acquire the most CAT Scan machines.

Jeff has enough of Gretchen and takes up with a nubile girl (Jessica Alba) he has little in common with. Back to the stories, the imprisoned doctor covets a fellow convict (Rob Corddry) to the chagrin of the cellmate who’s made him his prison bitch. A newlywed (Winona Ryder) becomes so enamored with a ventriloquist’s dummy that she steals it and goes on the run. Dope fiends console the ventriloquist (Michael Zeigfeld) with the tale of a lying rhino bearing false witness to the animals in his neighborhood. Jeff & Gretchen bump into each other and attempt to rekindle their passion, with Jeff’s marriage to Dianne Weist qualifying it as an act of adultery. Finally, a husband (A.D. Miles) rebels against his wife’s desire for him to attend church by starting a club where suburban men can hang out naked and do little else but listen to Roberta Flack on the Sabbath.

Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 10,291 users: 40% for The Ten

Metacritic “Metascore” average among 22 leading critics: 50 for The Ten

What do you say?

Tags: Animation · Cult favorite · Father/son relationship · Mother/son relationship · No opening credits · Supernatural · Unconventional romance

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