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Tomorrow Night

Though it features elements of the usual bad-taste and drag-camp humor, standup comic and TV writer Louis C.K.'s debut feature, "Tomorrow Night," is at heart a midnight movie of a different stripe.

With:
Charles - Chuck Sklar Florence - Martha Greenhouse Lola - Heather Morgan Tina - Rick Shapiro Mel the Mailman - J.B. Smoove Lester - Joe Dolphin Willie - Greg Hahn Mail Room Guy With Glasses - Robert Smigel Mail Room Guy Without Glasses - Steve Carrell Clean - Bruce Brown

Though it features elements of the usual bad-taste and drag-camp humor, standup comic and TV writer Louis C.K.’s debut feature, “Tomorrow Night,” is at heart a midnight movie of a different stripe. Uneven but charmingly silly effort most recalls such low-budget Everyman whimsies from the 1960s as “Funnyman,” “Crazy Quilt” and “The Plot Against Harry.” B&W pic won’t be an easy sell, but could turn into a cult favorite if given the chance.

Charles (Chuck Sklar) is the slight, bespectacled, militantly joyless owner of an NYC photo-shop. His sole “fun” in life consists of fetishistically dropping trou at home to sit buck-naked in a huge bowl of ice cream, while rinky-tink 78s play on the stereo. When big-mouthed mailman Mel (J.B. Smoove) blithely informs Charles he’s a “mean bastard,” latter realizes he should develop some social skills.

A date with neighborhood nymphomaniac Lola Vagina (Heather Morgan) does not turn the trick, so to speak. But during a house call to deliver overdue-for-pickup photos, Charles meets elderly Florence (Martha Greenhouse), who is tormented by her gambling husband (Joe Dolphin) and lonesome for the son (Greg Hahn) she hasn’t heard from in 20 years. (Little does she, or he, suspect that his mean-prankster Army buddies have been withholding their correspondence from delivery all this time.)

Eyeing the various tchotchkes and doilies laid out just so in Florence’s apartment, Charles is smitten. “I’m looking for a companion and I find your tidiness appealing,” he proclaims. Conveniently, her nasty spouse is soon killed in an alley by a pack of wild dogs, and the duo are free to marry. But wedlock sours quickly, complicated by the return at last of Flo’s offspring, and her insistence on adopting another “child” (Bruce Brown as a gun-toting teenage homeboy). Unable to cope, Charles flees back to the photo shop, where feature’s slightly unsatisfying ending awaits him.

It takes the viewer awhile to settle into pic’s endearing, off-kilter rhythms, and some of the material here (notably that for the two Army mailroom guys, plus Rick Shapiro as Flo’s transparently cross-dressing, grizzle-faced best friend) is uninspired. But for the most part “Tomorrow Night” grows steadily more hilarious as absurd situations are played out in a deliberately paced deadpan.

Perfs’ clashing styles heighten the silliness, ranging from Greenhouse’s sweet, naturalistic doddering and Sklar’s button-down neurotics to the cartoon craziness Morgan, Smoove and Dolphin provide. Writer-director C.K. has written for David Letterman, Dana Carvey, Chris Rock and Conan O’Brien, logging several standup tube appearances as well; O’Brien puts in a self-mocking cameo here.

Paul Keostner’s bleached-out lensing adds to modest but crisply handled production’s vague retro feel. Blowup from Super-16 to 35mm is quite handsome.

Tomorrow Night

Production: A Circus King Films presentation. Produced, directed, written by Louis C.K.

With: Charles - Chuck Sklar Florence - Martha Greenhouse Lola - Heather Morgan Tina - Rick Shapiro Mel the Mailman - J.B. Smoove Lester - Joe Dolphin Willie - Greg Hahn Mail Room Guy With Glasses - Robert Smigel Mail Room Guy Without Glasses - Steve Carrell Clean - Bruce BrownCamera (B&W, Super 16mm to 35mm), Paul Keostner; editor, Doug Abel; music, Neal Sugarman; production design, Amy Silver; art direction, Linda Krants; sound, Bill Wander; line producer, Liz Dory. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Midnight), Jan. 23, 1998. Running time: 87 min.

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