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Jack Peterson is a pretty great guy. He has a job that he loves (he builds birdhouses), a best friend (a larger-than-life lothario named Alan) who thinks the world of him, and a nice little townhouse in a sleepy North Carolina city. The only thing Jack doesn't have is…a wiener. A nurse accidentally cut off his woody when he was an infant, and ever since then, Jack has had to live sans schlong. And boy, oh boy, does Jack long for a replacement skin flute. He dreams about it, fantasies regularly over stroking and fondling his newfound noodle. He has tried plastic surgeons and every possible medical professional, but the best they can offer is a faux phallus made out of fat from his arm and stomach. But Jack doesn't want a belly-based boner. He wants a real life lizard of his very own, and has more or less given up on ever having one.
Then, Alan gives him some good advice. A private doctor in town offers the chance at a new, experimental tool transplant. When a perfect donor is found, Jack will be reconstructed, made more or less normal above the nutsack. Naturally, the anticipation of a new lease on life, thanks to someone else's surgically grafted groinage, becomes overwhelming. Jack is giddy for some girth. He is hyper for a hard-on. He even starts to date, hooking up with his nice neighbor Jenny. But as he waits for his new knob and starts to consider all the problems and possibilities, Jack starts to have second thoughts. Maybe he doesn't want a pubic pole after all. Maybe life is just fine the way it is. After all, aside from sex, Jack's existence has been pretty sweet, even if it has also been Ding-a-ling-Less.
Sounding like a dirty joke taken to a tacky extreme, but actually ending up rather resplendent and very funny, Ding-a-ling-Less marks a substantial turn of events for its writer-director Onur Tukel. Having previously helmed the horrible Drawing Blood (a vampire horror-comedy that was really none of the aforementioned) and the less than successful House of Pancakes (a tired tale of some housemates from Hell), Tukel finally hits a homerun with his third feature film offering, this slightly skewed romantic comedy about a dude in search of his missing manhood. Initially, it takes a little time to get into Tukel's mannerisms and mindset here. The filmmaker loads his script with dozens of disgusting and dirty ways to describe a dong and the actions that such an appendage can be used for. Indeed, everyone in this fable-like fantasyland of a small town seems to sympathize with Jack and gives him equally course and vulgar advice. These crudity-laced sentiments are a little off-putting at first, but once you get used to their existence, Ding-a-ling-Less begins to fulfill its promise.
Ding-a-ling-Less also marks a turn in the acting fortunes for its lead, Kirk Wilson. Having been unfortunate enough to star in Tukel's other failures, this film signifies the perfect role for Wilson's usually forced forlorn wistfulness. Wilson is very adept at playing pathetic, and during the first half of the film, he really gets us sympathizing with Jack's dilemma. Then, as the narrative continues and issues arise with the upcoming surgery, Wilson makes the change of heart seem natural and viable. There is never an awkward or arch moment in his performance, and it is excellent in its subtlety and sensitivity. Equally impressive in a far less friendly role is Robert Longstreet, as Jack's womanizing pal Alan. Kind of like a combination of Hank Azaria and Chris Cooper, Longstreet gets the chance to chew a little scenery as he puts on the boyish bravado and tries to walk his buddy through the world of wang. We also get to see a different side of Alan when he describes to Jack what it's like to have sex with a woman. Longstreet also gets an excellent speech in the final sequence before the surgery. Along with an ensemble of actors that really believes in this project and its premise, Ding-a-ling-Less turns from a juvenile joke into a thoughtful, complicated comedy right before our delighted eyes.
As he has done before, Tukel experiments with the film medium, augmenting his story with asides, blackouts, visual cleverness, and a style that recalls both vintage Woody Allen and modern indie cinema. Though working with a shoestring budget and limited resources, Tukel makes the most of his North Carolina setting, giving us a real feel for the small town location of his film. The director has also cleaned up his compositional act, framing his scenes in artistically interesting fashion. When Alan and Jack have a conversation in the middle of an alley, the actors are perfectly positioned in a long shot that takes in both the buildings in the background and the somber horizon above, creating an interesting canvas in which to have a conversation. Along with a serious message about meaningless sex and the value of human interaction, Ding-a-ling-Less gives us an unusual, unique take on the malady of the modern male. Indeed, most men at one time or another have felt unfulfilled, and wonder what life would be like if they were better endowed. Using this concept to craft a combination of "Jokes from the John" and insightful allegory, this movie marks Onur Tukel's arrival as an effective filmmaker. All his other films aside, Ding-a-ling-Less is a wonderful, witty movie with good heart buried inside all the dick quips.
Go Kart Films has released Ding-a-ling-Less in a nice looking, non-anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer that is somewhat soft, but still very professional looking. The colors are muted in staying with the earthtone-dominant atmosphere, and there is a nice balance between day and night scenes. While the contrasts could have been tweaked a little to emphasize the detail, the overall picture looks surprisingly good (lack of a 16x9 format aside). The sonic situation is also fairly barebones and basic. The Dolby Digital Stereo provides little ambience or mood, but we do hear every line of dialogue in crystal clarity.
As part of the added content, Ding-a-ling-Less gets some very nice bonus aspects. There are several deleted scenes, which are made up of extended takes of scenes that exist in the film. There are three separate storyboard-to-scene comparisons that show us just how thought-out and prepared in advance Tukel's vision really was. In addition, we get production notes (text screens featuring trivia and anecdotes about the movie), a gallery of production stills, and a collection of trailers.
The best extra is the nonstop jabber-box commentary between writer-director Onur Tukel and actor-editor Robert "Alan" Longstreet. Not really a scene-specific breakdown, but more like a casual conversation about both of their experiences in making the movie, this animated discussion is funny and very frank. Tukel disowns his previous films, claiming they are horrible wastes of time. Longstreet marvels at how wonderful a job Kirk Wilson does, and both of them more or less swoon at how well things turned out. Though they do tend to go off on personal tangents, arguing over how actors should be treated, the value of rehearsal, or their favorite directors, this alternative narrative track is more like a lesson in independent filmmaking than a peek behind the scenes.
Ding-a-ling-Less is a highly original work of under-the-radar subgenius, the kind of hidden gem you never expect to see from the usually uneven world of independent cinema. Thought it won't meet with everyone's taste, and does aim for more lowbrow than highbrow ideals, the end result is something very special, both bizarre and brave. This is a remarkable film, made even more so by the tainted track record of its creator. Onur Tukel has finally found his voice, and it ends up coming from a gent without a johnson. For Ding-a-ling-Less, nothing seems more appropriate.
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• Audio Commentary by Writer-Director Onur Tukel and Actor-Editor Robert Longstreet
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