In a so-gnarly-it’s-funny segment of David Wain’s The Ten, a prison inmate figures that he’s had enough of being violated by his gruff old slob of a cellmate. It’s not the forced sex he has a problem with; it’s the partner. So, in the courtyard, he finds another candidate. The two flirt like schoolgirls, discussing their shared love of sushi, until the new dude confesses that he wishes he were the one doing the violating, ”without your consent.” Our hero, with a sweet smile, then says, ”That’s what makes it rape, right?” At which point the new butch beau replies, ”That’s what makes it rape!” The capper is that this outrage is one of a series of sketch-comedy versions of the Ten Commandments — in this case, ”Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife.” Whether that makes it philosophical, or just hilarious, the prison-bitches-are-sensitive-spouses-too joke comes off as a pure scandalous nugget of theater of the absurd.
The first movie Wain has directed since Wet Hot American Summer (2001), his delectable satire of ’80s getting-laid-at-camp teen flicks, The Ten is in many ways closer to the knockabout mishegoss of his TV comedy-troupe work, The State and Stella. Like those shows, it’s aggressively hit or miss, but the highs are high indeed, as Wain uses the Commandments to create a variety-pack satire of adult mores and manners. It’s like early Woody Allen crossed with late Buñuel.
Among the highlights is the almost indescribably uproarious ”Honor thy mother and father,” in which a pair of African-American twins attempt to meet their long-lost white celebrity daddy — resulting in a punchline that’s pure dada, not to mention a tweak of every feel-good family-dysfunction comedy ever made. Wain’s coscreenwriter, Ken Marino, who plays the prison bitch, shows up as the same character in ”Thou shalt not murder,” where his legal defense against a homicide he has committed is his relentless insistence that it was ”just a goof!” — a tart send-up of America’s 24/7 irony culture. A few of the sketches don’t work (the worst: ”Thou shalt not take the Lord’s name in vain,” with Gretchen Mol as a virgin in Mexico), but most of The Ten is devious and inspired enough to juice you past any weak spots. Thou shalt be amused.