Louis C.K. has made his first feature, Tomorrow Night, available through his website. As with previous releases, the cost is a flat $5 dollars for a download (in either standard- or hi-def), plus three online streams. For physical-media purists, there’s a printable DVD cover and label as well as a poster-sized graphic. The movie, which was screened at Sundance in 1998 but never got distribution, features appearances by Steve Carrell, Amy Poehler, Wanda Sykes, Robert Smigel, J.B. Smoove, Todd Barry and others. Now where’s that Pootie Tang director’s cut?
Shot on grainy black-and-white stock, Tomorrow Night turns out to be a bitter black comedy about an antisocial camera-shop owner named Chuck (Chuck Sklar, best known as the producer of The Chris Rock Show and, most recently, Totally Biased) whose only pleasure seems to come from masturbating while squatting in a carefully prepared dish of ice cream. At one point, he lands a date with a local floozy named Lola Vagina (Heather Morgan), a rendezvous whose awkwardness is increased by the presence of his overbearing mailman (Smoove) and his girlfriend (Sykes). Meanwhile, a strait-laced G.I. (Greg Kohn) has been sending letters to his elderly mother for 20 years, not knowing that his base’s mailroom clerks (Steve Carrell and Robert Smigel) take keen pleasure in depositing each of them in a specially marked wastebin. His mother (Martha Greenhouse) wastes away in a loveless marriage to her mean-spirited husband, Lester (Joseph Dolphin), but when he’s eaten by a pack of wild dogs and Chuck comes to her house to deliver a roll of prints, an unlikely, if not especially affectionate, romance begins.
In case it’s not clear from that synopsis, Tomorrow Night is something of a mess, taking its cues from Eastern Bloc comedy and Woody Allen movies — much of the score is scratchy gramophone recordings of old-fashioned jazz — but not fashioning it into anything coherent or new. Comedian Rick Shapiro plays an elderly woman who acts as a foil to Greenhouse’s character, a rough-shaven type with smeared lipstick, but it’s not clear if his character’s meant to be a transvestite and Greenhouse is too naive to notice or it’s just CK’s idea of a deadpan gag. Scenes of broad comedy and Kafkaesque despair bang into each other without regard for consistency of tone, although CK shows the strong visual sense that’s served him so well on his TV show. (The cinematographer is Paul Koestner, who, barring Pootie Tang, has shot everything CK’s done since.) The best moment, a fleeting evocation of Jacques Tati. is only a few seconds long: A shop clerk, played by CK, goes from spraying down the sidewalk to soaking passers-by (including a briskly striding Amy Poehler), who don’t even seem to notice. In other words, it’s one for completists only, or those curious what some of his eventually famous cast looked like 16 years ago.