by Lisa Slade
There are two different types of funny. Thereâ’s the real kind of funny, the kind where you see something happen on the screen and you laugh. Out loud. Then thereâ’s the other kind of funny, the kind where you see something happen on the screen and you donâ’t quite laugh, but maybe it trips something in your brain and you think to yourself, â“Hey that was sort of amusing.â”
Itâ’s obvious which of those two scenarios is preferable. Rock beats scissors. Scissors beats paper. Laughing beats not laughing.
Unfortunately, The Ten is a comedy that never actually makes you laugh. Out loud, anyway. This is both inexcusable and surprising, considering the fertility of its premise. There are 10 separate short stories, each based loosely on one of the Ten Commandments, and all the pieces are hinged upon a central narrator (played by Paul Rudd) who also tells his tale. The film ought to be bitingly satirical, ridiculously irreverent, and intolerably offensive. Unfortunately, itâ’s none of those things.
The humor is juvenile, immature and underdeveloped. Itâ’s either taken too farâ"as when a man skydives, forgets his parachute and crashes into the ground, where he has to remain for the rest of his lifeâ"or it just doesnâ’t make sense. Itâ’s full of clever one-liners and potentially hilarious situations that, for some reason, never quite make it.
Itâ’s sinful that it doesnâ’t quite work because The Ten is filled with enough Hollywood A/B-listers to fill a small cruise liner. Thereâ’s Winona Ryder, Adam Brody, Jessica Alba, Ken Marino, Famke Janssen, Paul Rudd, Liev Schreiber, and more. None of these people are at their best here. The performances are generally excessive and melodramatic, subtlety be damned. Paul Rudd, playing the filmâ’s narrator, is the worst of all. Heâ’s irritating. Heâ’s whiny. Heâ’s nowhere near as good as he was in The 40 Year Old Virgin or even Anchorman.
There are a few entertaining bits. For instance, when Winona Ryder steals a ventriloquist dummyâ"in the â“thou shall not stealâ” skit, nonethelessâ"itâ’s ironic. Itâ’s humorous. Itâ’s, okay, itâ’s a little funny. But itâ’s not the writers who conjured up that joke, itâ’s the previously established real-life situation.
You get the sense that this film is intended to be a step above regular, low-brow comedy. (In Knoxville, itâ’s only playing at Downtown West, after all.) So you assume the jokes will be smarter, their humor derived from the higher parts of the brain and not from the genitalia. Not so.
And as if the lack of humor wasnâ’t enough, the film also has some structural issues. Some of the stories donâ’t even relate to the commandments theyâ’re exploring. Itâ’s like an Aesopâ’s fable with no moral, or with several contradicting morals. The narrative has so many voices that it never firmly establishes one.
As a result, we donâ’t care about these people. So they get hurt? So they lead miserable lives? So what? This kind of fragmentation, using various stories within one, is an appealing tool for filmmakers and it can be effectiveâ"think Crash or even Babel. But The Ten is lost within the confusion, the technique only obscuring the wittiness. This becomes even more apparent towards the end of the film as it dissolves into a musical number. A musical number where all the characters sing of the lessons theyâ’ve learned. Itâ’s as though the writers asked themselves â“Why not?â” when they should have been asking â“Why?â”
This is a comedy, though. Maybe it doesnâ’t need to be coherent or have a moral. Maybe. But if itâ’s a comedy, it should be funny. It should at least make you laughâ"out loudâ"and thatâ’s a miracle this movie doesnâ’t achieve.
Movie Guru Rating:
Itâ’s been a good year for insurgencies, at least at the video store. In May, the Criterion Collection released Jean-Pierre Melvilleâ’s harrowing 1969 French Resistance drama Army of Shadows for the first time in the States. Now comes The Wind That Shakes the Barley, British indie stalwart Ken Loachâ’s vigorous tale of the Irish Republican Army in the 1920s.
County Cork boy Damien (Cillian Murphy of 28 Days Later and Batman Begins) is all but on the train for a medical residency in faraway London when he finds himself pulled back into the fight against the British occupation, personified here by brutal squads of â“Black and Tanâ” troops. Damienâ’s in good company: His brother Teddy (Padraic Delaney) is an IRA leader, his fellow Republican soldiers are his best mates, and fetching lass Siobahn (Orla Fitzgerald) is down with the struggle, too. Loach hints early on that the tight bonds and high ideals of the Republican movement could become crosses to bear when Damien has to execute a friend; as the plot unfolds and more blood spills, Teddy and some of the Republicans accept a compromise peace treaty while Damien and others reject it, literally pitting brother against brother.
Loach is best known here, if at all, for his plainspoken, politicized explorations of contemporary British working-class life (Riff-Raff, My Name Is Joe). The Wind That Shakes the Barley is a period piece, and a sweeping one by Loachâ’s standards, but his fierce humanism remains in place, as does his parsing of the politics behind the personal stories. Fortunately, other than a few slightly speechy scenes, the film stays focused on the uncomfortably intimate struggle (the two sides often slaughter each other from feet, sometimes inches away) and the characters who find themselves battling the Brits and each other with equal passion. â" Lee Gardner
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