In a sane, level-headed and clear-eyed world, early '90s sketch group The State (also a TV show) would still be practicing their ambitious and absurd brand of screwball comedy. Sadly, Scooter Libby gets fresh air and sunshine while the boys and girls of The State have been relegated to obscurity, scattering like cockroaches in a well-lit kitchen to different comedic prospects. Most of the members found their way to Comedy Central's cannily-hilarious Reno 911
! where State leads Thomas Lennon
, Ben Garant
, and Kerri Kenney
are series cornerstones. Almost every other member of the troupe has made a recurring or cameo spot on the program but the effect has never been as lively or precarious as the best moments of The State.
With a few celebrities on board, the group assembles (with a few exceptions) for key member David Wain
's The Ten, a foul-mouthed, dirty-as-diapers, Republican-baiting retelling of the Ten Commandments. The stories are stitched together by a loose narrative thread involving a man (Paul Rudd
) serving as narrator who is leaving his wife (Famke Janssen
) for a younger ditz (Jessica Alba
). Article continues below
A natural symptom of films structured by sketch-comedy troupes is the episodic choppiness of the film's narrative. Wisely, Wain picks a subject that relates to this structure and does his best to string them together in a loose thematic construct. As expected, some commandments are just plain funnier than others. The funnier episodes bubble over with erratic wit: an animated rhino's travels, Winona Ryder
falling in love with a ventriloquist dummy, Liev Schreiber
squaring-off against Joe Lo Truglio to see who can get more MRI machines, Rob Corddry
and Ken Marino
falling in love in prison, Gretchen Mol
having a wild affair with Jesus Christ (the ever-elusive Justin Theroux
You've got to give credit to Wain and his cast that more than 50 percent of these sketches don't suck. With the exception of a flimsy Woody Allen
spoof and a plodding take on "Honor Thy Father and Mother" that finds two black kids believing their father is Arnold Schwarzenegger, the sketches take pleasures in detailed laughs that consider tone and delivery above the actual setup of the joke. In fact, the biggest laughs come from moments as insignificant as a doctor (Ken Marino) describing medical malfeasance as "just a goof" to a hothead detective (Liev Schreiber).
Of course, very few of these moments match-up towards the more classic moments of The State, but most of them equal or eclipse Wain's previous effort, Wet Hot American Summer (although nothing here measures up to Christopher Meloni
's mumbling camp chef). The comedy here is socially relevant in only the slightest of ways, allowing for the troupe's inherent silliness to loosen up any pretentious idea of satirical grandstanding. The best moments, however, comes when the absurdity is rooted in stereotype, like Thomas Lennon's classic Old Man sketch. Still, I guess there's no getting around the fact that both Moses and Kieslowski (The Decalogue) are rolling in their graves.