by David Cornelius
The rules: everything had to be shot at one location, with only one person. Which sounds like the hard-nosed restrictions of a Dogma 95 film, but it’s actually the limitations of “42 Story House,” a no-budget indie from Todd W. Langen. The reasons are understandable. After all, Langen has one location (his house), one camera (his own), and one person (himself); it’s not so much a restriction as it is a surrender to cold reality.The movie is a collection of random comedy shorts, all produced in their entirety by Langen - so much so that the film requires no credits, other than a shot of its maker filming himself in the mirror, as nobody else did anything to make this movie possible. Langen serves as writer, director, producer, cast, and crew. He’s even distributing the film all by himself.
"One man band."
Fortunately, Langen (a former writer for “The Wonder Years” and scripter of the first two “Ninja Turtles” flicks) is a funny enough fellow that we actually come to enjoy watching him screw around on camera for ninety minutes, and he’s a likable enough chap that we want his project to succeed. Watching his movie is like watching one of your funniest friends come over with a tape of some excessive goofing-off he whipped up over the weekend.
The shorts themselves stir up memories of Len Cella and his “Moron Movies.” Some of you hopefully remember Cella’s work from “The Tonight Show” and “TV Bloopers” - a title card would be followed by a rapid-fire punchline, usually one dealing in complete absurdity. Langen offers up the same homemade, questionable-production-values charm, and on occasion, his abstract, conceptual set-ups/punchlines stir up memories of Cella’s finest. Quickie shorts like “A Salute to Fatalism,” “The Obligatory Celebrity Cameo,” “The Brokenfly Effect,” and “Seriously, Puppets?” have a distinct one-joke appeal to them. The laughs come fast, then it’s off to the next short.
Some shorts run on too long, and others still are too hit-and-miss, as is to be expected from any project of this kind. Langen revels in running gags, and while some of them are cute (a series of shorts involving a falling rock and an unfortunate victim grow in clever ways), others run out of steam too quickly (a “story deleted” joke is used more than it should be; after successfully parodying brooding European art films in “A Foreign Breakfast,” Langen tries to duplicate the gag with other genres, but the energy’s gone).
Langen’s funniest work is found in his longest shorts - although, curiously, that’s also where you’ll find his biggest stumbles. Langen has a tendency to let a joke run on longer than it should, often resulting in tiring repetition of an idea. But then, after the repetition kicks in, he somehow manages to pull out one or two more giant laughs. Consider “False Alarm,” in which a man repeatedly finds himself jolting awake from a dream, only to find that this, too, is another dream. The cycle is funny at first, then wearisome as we enter a redundant loop of similar material. But then, after we’re getting bored with the gag, Langen manages a goofy reaction, or an unexpected twist on the premise, or both, and we laugh again. The filmmaker always manages to have one more trick up his sleeve, just when we think he’s spent.
The shorts work best when reveling in their own meaningless silliness, like “Egg-icide,” in which an egg consistently fails at killing himself. It’s not the concept that’s funny, but Langen’s execution: he dubs in the most ridiculous grumbles as the voice of the egg, and you can’t help but giggle wildly, knowing that Langen was probably cracking himself up recording it.
That’s the whole charm of “42 Story House.” You’re watching a guy fool around just to make himself laugh, and we laugh, too. It’s raw and unpolished and often off the mark, but it’s also so lovingly goofy that we never stop smiling. Todd Langen is a funny guy, and here’s the movie that proves it.Note: As “42 Story House” is a self-distributed project, the film is currently only available through Langen’s own website: www.42storyhouse.com.
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originally posted: 06/19/07 12:52:56