Kevin Smith delivers the Canada-mocking, furry-loving, surgical horror-comedy you’ve been waiting for
Directed by Kevin Smith
Cast: Justin Long, Michael Parks, Haley Joel Osment
Several years ago mid-’90s indie film icon Kevin Smith announced he was going to retire from the filmmaking biz. Stinging from the sale of his Hollywood home, Miramax Films, and his repeated failures to break into the mainstream movie biz (Jersey Girl, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Cop Out), Smith seemed content (albeit briefly) to stay in New Jersey, smoke dope and record his weekly “SModcast” with pal Scott Mosier.
In 2011, however, Smith got all worked up over the rise of the Westboro Baptist Church and quickly assembled a self-distributed Frankenstein’s monster called Red State, which stitched the front half of a torture-porn horror film onto the back half of a politically charged action movie. It kinda worked. In a weird way. Now Smith is ramping up his production with a number of crazy(er?) projects—including one (Yoga Hosers) starring his and Johnny Depp’s teenage daughters as a couple of bubble-headed convenience store clerks in Canada who team up to stop a demon from destroying the world. Before we get there, though, we’re faced with Smith’s latest offering, an off-the-rails horror-comedy called Tusk, which—if nothing else—offers viewers this year’s most WTF? moviegoing experience.
Tusk stars Justin Long (who will forever be “the Mac guy”) as Wallace Bryton, a snarky, foul-mouthed, internet-famous podcaster. Along with his partner-in-crime Teddy (Haley Joel Osment, who’s done mostly voice work since 2001’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence), Wallace makes a living by making fun of the embarrassing videos people post online. As our film opens, he’s taking a trip to Canada to “interview” (but mostly insult) a kid who cut his own leg off imitating Kill Bill. Stranded without an interview by the kid’s untimely suicide, Wallace stumbles across an unusual “roommate wanted” poster in a bar. Following hazy and mysterious directions, Wallace finds himself at the isolated mansion of charismatic shut-in Howard Howe (longtime Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez collaborator Michael Parks).
To give Smith some credit, Tusk is different. Good different or bad different is the sort of debate you’ll have to settle for yourself.
Mr. Howe is a retired seaman with a million crazy stories. Intrigued by his real-life adventures, Wallace listens to the old guy gas on about World War II, Ernest Hemingway and a pivotal shipwreck off the Alaskan coast. Thanks to a drugged drink and a generally sinister soundtrack, we viewers quickly realize something isn’t quite right about Mr. Howe. Turns out the ex-sailor is a stone-cold weirdo with a freakish connection to, well, walruses. His sinister plan is to kidnap Mr. Bryton, conduct some ungodly medical experiments on the guy and turn him into, well, a human walrus. There. I said it. Tusk is a horror film about a guy who gets turned into a walrus. There’s not a lot you can really say after something like that.
Michael Parks is far and away the saving grace here. He exudes an intelligent menace, and his realistic performance grounds the entire film, no matter how ridiculous things get. (And they get mighty damn ridiculous.)
To give Smith some credit, Tusk is different. Good different or bad different is the sort of debate you’ll have to settle for yourself. It would be an easier argument if Smith had come up with a consistent tone for this low-budget horror-comedy. Unlike splapstick pioneers Sam Raimi (Evil Dead) and Peter Jackson (Dead Alive), who are able to balance bloody mayhem with anarchic comedy in a seamless funhouse ride, Smith can’t quite get the proportions right. Basically Tusk is a nasty body horror film occasionally interrupted by blow-job jokes and the silliest Canadian stereotypes since ... I don’t know, the South Park movie? Red State was an odd pastiche, but it held together—mostly because it had a point to make. Tusk is so far-fetched Lassie couldn’t retrieve it. But if you’ve been looking for a film that mixes The Human Centipede with a Bob and Doug McKenzie sketch, here it is. Icky surgery and jokes aboot poutine, eh?
Michael Parks is far and away the saving grace here. He exudes an intelligent menace, and his realistic performance grounds the entire film, no matter how ridiculous things get. (And they get mighty damn ridiculous.) The same can’t be said for most of the rest of the cast, who seem to have been imported from a different movie entirely. Long does what he can given his unsympathetic character and the things he’s asked to, you know, endure. We get a sneak preview of what Yoga Hosers will look like when Harley Quinn Smith and Lily-Rose Melody Depp drop by, playing their characters from Smith’s next opus. Let’s just say it’s not very inspiring. Things go completely off the rails, however, when an unrecognizable (and uncredited) Johnny Depp shows up about halfway through to deliver a totally unhinged Inspector Clouseau imitation. The guy’s done some strange things on screen lately, but this qualifies as a full-on Nicolas Cage nut job.
You’ve got to appreciate the fact that—20 years after his iconic debut in Clerks—Smith is stretching beyond his comfort zone. At this point in his career, he clearly doesn’t give a fuck what anyone thinks. Kudos for that. Really. Tusk is the out-of-left-field sort of film nobody sees coming. Judged solely on the outlandishness of its premise, Tusk is an unqualified success. The concept earns an A-. But the rickety execution? It deserves a D+.