Written & Directed by Kevin Smith
Staring Michael Parks, Justin Long, Haley Joel Osment & Genesis Rodriguez
Now Playing in NYC & Select Theaters
Tusk, director Kevin Smith’s latest attempt to indulge his collective of followers, came about largely because of them. On his SModcast, a podcast he hosts with Scott Mosier, Smith discussed a British classified ad that offered free housing to anyone, so long as they were willing to dress up as a walrus for a few hours each day. Intrigued by the idea, he asked his listeners to tweet in their responses to this absurdity becoming a horror film reality. A movie was hatched.
Though, like some of Smith’s other cinematic endeavors (Dogma, Cop Out), this one feels just like its conception, a great idea that loses direction after its main conceit. It starts in a familiar place. Justin Long plays Wallace (a coded name), who obnoxiously hosts a podcast—cleverly called the Not-See Party– in Los Angeles with his friend Teddy (Haley Joel Osment). It’s really an excuse to crack each other up and make fun of other people, which they do almost religiously. That’s exaggerated when they find a Youtube video of a Canadian kid who has sliced his leg off re-enacting a scene from Kill Bill.
Wallace, wearing an absurd mustache, heads to Manitoba to interview the unfortunate, no less viral, victim. It turns out, the kid has pulled a more morbid stunt, and Wallace is left dangling in the north without a story. That is, until he seizes upon a handwritten note in a bar bathroom that promises free lodging and old stories from a Navy veteran. This of course inspires Wallace’s ego-driven radio instinct and he heads “two hours out of Manitoba,” into a backwoods horror movie.
The old seaman, Howard Howe, is played by Michael Parks, who presents a façade of weary wisdom to his enthusiastic guest. Howard waxes poetic about his days aboard ships, offering anecdotes about Ernest Hemingway, invoking “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and prompting Wallace to ask, “Who are you, Rudyard Kipling?” Not exactly, he’ll soon find out, especially when the old man begins a nostalgia trip about an old friend that happened to be a walrus. Wallace will wake up the next morning strapped to a wheelchair, immobile, and without his left leg.
This is a sad irony considering Wallace’s earlier mission and a very twisted comeuppance. Smith takes this movie, at this point terrifyingly intelligent, into midnight, eventually Human Centipede, territory. From there, it is a gross and quick descent into madness that loses some ingenuity in spite of its unique mammalian inspiration.
The movie cuts back in time before the Canadian journey to Wallace’s underappreciated girlfriend Ally (Genesis Rodriguez), who pleads for him to not embarrass the sword-wielding sensation. Smith flashes back a few more times, painting Wallace with darker strokes than we originally witnessed. It turns out, he’s not such a great boyfriend, and he’s pretty rude to some convenient store clerks. Of course, his eventual punishment is far more cruel and unusual than he might typically deserve.
Ally and Teddy soon enough start a search for him, enlisting help from a Manitoban-accented inspector, played almost unrecognizably by Johnny Depp. His presence is more bumbling than intriguing, and this final act loses any steam that was fueling its sickening story. Depp introduces his theory about Howard in a single shot monologue– a device Smith uses with a few characters—but it lacks the visual spark and magnetic energy of a Quentin Tarantino.
Maybe there is a message hidden beneath all of the sadistic blubber. Smith is certainly doing his best to provide one. He even throws in Debussy’s “Claire De Lune” above Long’s moaning at one point. It’s just too difficult to smell the artistry from the fishy.
– Jake Kring-Schreifels