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Breaking the rules

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Naked Gun meets Waiting for Godot in The Ten, David Wain's collection of short films inspired by those stone tablets Moses brought down from Mount Sinai. Combining movie/TV-show spoofs with Beckettian absurdity, Wain and his co-scriptwriter, Ken Marino, work their way through the various "thou shalt"s and "thou shalt not"s, and the particular blend of comedy they've come up with may be a little too rarefied for some people's taste. But if the very idea of Winona Ryder sharing a no-tell motel room with a ventriloquist's dummy already has a smile forming in the corner of your mouth, you should be okay. And if you liked Wet Hot American Summer, Wain's parody of '80s coming-of-age movies (talk about rarefied!), rest assured, The Ten is even farther off the wall. When Wain's through with them, those stone tablets have been reduced to a little pile of rubble.

First off is the one about "no gods before me," and for some reason that means a story about a guy (Adam Brody) who forgets to put on his parachute before jumping out of an airplane. Only, instead of becoming a grease spot, he survives, stuck in the ground up to his waist, unable to be moved lest he die. The media take over, and the guy first dominates the nightly news, then lands his own sitcom, then becomes a big TV star, then starts believing his own press releases, then gets involved in a tabloid scandal, then has his show canceled, then appears on one of those Where Are They Now? shows, all while Goin' Nowhere, which happens to have been the name of his sitcom. Rarely has hype received such a giddy send-up. And who would argue that the Media Industrial Complex hasn't become a bit of a golden calf?

Elsewhere, Gretchen Mol plays a Marian the Librarian type who takes an Under the Tuscan Sun-style trip to Mexico, where she meets a very sexy carpenter named Jesus (Justin Theroux), who also happens to walk on water. (Later, in the throes of passion, she will use the Lord's name in vain.) And Marino plays a surgeon who, "just goofing around," leaves a pair of scissors in a patient he operated on. His legal defense: "It was a goof!" Needless to say, he's sent to prison, where he becomes the "ass-rape bitch" of a guy named Buster. But after a courtship that wouldn't seem out of place on the Lifetime Channel, he becomes the "ass-rape bitch" of a guy named Duane (Rob Corddry). Thus do we learn not to covet thy neighbor's wife. At least I think that's the relevant commandment. You can't always tell, despite lead-ins to each segment by Paul Rudd as an adulterous jerk.

Those lead-ins are probably the weakest parts of a movie that's admittedly hit or miss. But when it connects, the effect is like taking a lung-choking hit of laughing gas. I'm not sure the Ten Commandments mean very much to Wain, except as a rack to hang his comedic ideas on. And, technically speaking, the whole thing seems a little slung together. What's impressive about it, though, is how it manages to keep a straight face while engaging in such utter nonsense - well, not utter nonsense. Each time, an absurd premise is treated like the most normal thing in the world, which leaves you wondering just how normal everything in the world really is. And so, when a group of husbands beg off going to church on Sunday so they can spend the Sabbath hanging around the house together, listening to Roberta Flack records in the nude, it's a hilarious idea, but it's also the final word on that whole Iron John thing.

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