Directed by: Kevin Smith
Cast: Justin Long, Michael Parks, Haley Joel Osment, Genesis Rodriguez, Guy LaPointe
Running Time: 1 hr 42 mins
Release Date: September 19, 2014 (Chicago)
PLOT: A podcaster (Long) is turned into a walrus when he meets a strange Canadian (Parks).
WHO’S IT FOR? Fans of Kevin Smith, and those who wish Quentin Tarantino made more talky Grindhouse movies.
Just as Tusk was brought into our world, so does the film itself begins with a podcast. Wallace (Justin Long) and Teddy (Haley Joel Osment) are two toking jokesters who have a big following with their Not-See Party podcast, a petty Third Reich pun that stands for their shtick in which Wallace meets eclectic people, and then tells Teddy about his experience on-air. Wallace travels to Canada to meet an internet sensation named “The Kill Bill Kid,” who infamously filmed himself accidentally cutting off his leg while practicing sword moves. When Wallace arrives to Canada he discovers that his interview subject has recently killed himself (“The Star Wars Kid,” of whom this characters is based, did not have the same fate but became an anti-bullying advocate). Searching for a subject to take his place for the show, Wallace stumbles upon an ad posted by a recluse named Howard Howe (Michael Parks), a wheelchair-bound enigma who promises grand life stories to those who can assist him with chores in his isolated abode.
Wallace finds himself genuinely enthralled by the tales of his fellow storyteller, with the miser regaling him on the time that Ernest Hemingway personally gave him now-famous advice, or the pivotal life event of being stuck at sea. In the middle of their conversation, the tea that Wallace had been sipping on causes him to pass out. When he wakes up, he is in a wheelchair and completely paralyzed. Soon after Wallace sends frightened voicemails for help to his fellow-podcaster and girlfriend, Howard speaks of the abhorrent abuse he suffered from members of the Catholic Church, and then offers a complete image of inhumanity by slicing and stitching Wallace’s body parts to resemble a walrus.
Bolting Kevin Smith from self-professed directorial retirement with the interest of talking through a monster film instead of just over people on a podcast, Tusk is little more than the creation of a movie junkie curious as to what a film about a human-to-walrus metamorphosis would look like. Among the usual Smith setbacks (horrific female character construction, for one) some inspired moments do show potential growth in Smith’s filmmaking. Dialogue can create some nervous tension in escalating interactions between a helpless Wallace and a monologuing Howard, and diverse music is used with distinction (whether’s the winking use of Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk,” or a visceral crescendo achieved with Chopin).
Yet whatever threatens to make Smith’s experiment interesting is hindered by his own lack of interest in engaging the heavier assets within it: wrenching tales of abuse, and the framing device of mean-spirited storytellers from fleshed performances by Long & Parks, only provide hefty darkness to an absurd nightmare that can’t support its dark comedy preference with fluffy meta sarcasm. Even when presenting a vivid example of the terrors of dehumanization to the phone-hacking Reddit generation, the central, psychological horror itself becomes superfluous. Nor is Smith attracted to truly engaging the concept on a narrative level, setting his horror movie on a Psycho course, and then slogging through scenes that are preserved by casting (Guy LaPointe’s cross eyes in particular) more than the fruits of Smith’s chatty dialogue.
Tusk ends with a podcast as well. Over the film’s end credits, a sound clip presents co-hosts/co-producers Scott Mosier and Smith giggling as they invent the finale that just played. Book-ending this nightmare of anti-redemption/mean-spirited parody of humanity with a darker species of podcaster laughter, Tusk concludes by indicating that it prefers the whole of it to be viewed with sarcasm, an amorphous cop-out to any standard of quality or consistency. But, Smith wanted to see a man-walrus movie, so, uh, here it is.
FINAL SCORE: 5/10