Film Review – Tusk
A little back story to help set the scene: I was an unabashed Kevin Smith fan for the better part of my youth. My father was blessedly out of touch and had no idea what Clerks was when I put it on the counter on one of our frequent trips to the video store. As a 13 year old and fairly devout Christian, the movie’s blunt sex talk both shocked and titillated me. (The Stars Wars diatribe didn’t hurt either.) Needless to say, I was hooked. I devoured his every output up through Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and owned enough View Askew t-shirts to make Walt Flanagan blush. And then came Jersey Girl. Well, it was a fun ride while it lasted.
While there is still much to admire in Clerks, Chasing Amy and Dogma, Kevin Smith’s flaws as a filmmaker became more evident the more I re-visited. The return of Dante and Randal left me mostly cold and the bad press and hissy fits surrounding Cop Out sealed the deal. I checked out. Interestingly, so did Smith. He announced his retirement on more than one occasion and focused instead on his skills as a raconteur to his legion of rabid and now aging fans. Between his college Q&As and emerging podcast empire, he seemed content..for a spell. His first dabble into horror, Red State, seemed an interesting route for a man who so prides himself on a dick joke. Personally, I think the film loses it at the halfway mark and never recovers. But bygawl if he wasn’t TRYING something. And that was exciting to me. Imagine my curiosity, then, when he announced his next movie would center on a narcissistic kidnappee who is surgically transformed into a walrus.
Inspired by a weed-fueled tangent he went on on an episode of his podcast, Smith’s Tusk focuses on (you guessed it) a podcaster named Wallace (Justin Long) who, along with his chucklehead co-host Teddy (Haley Joel Osment), mock the eccentricities of viral video stars and basically anyone they deem exploitable. One such subject leads Wallace to Manitoba. After he spots a strange ad from a retired sailor seeking a housemate in a bar bathroom, he revises his plans and arranges an interview. But all is not as it seems. Unless you’ve seen the trailer, in which case you have a pretty good idea of what’s to come.
Tusk is not a successful movie. Wallace’ general disdain for everyone and everything makes him impossible to sympathize with and makes you wonder why Teddy or long-suffering girlfriend Ally (Genesis Rodriguez) even give a hoot when he goes missing. Add to this the excruciatingly obvious pokes at Canada and the most misguided cameo this side of Ottawa and what you have is a recipe for disaster, eh. Here’s the thing, though: I saw Tusk a week ago at the time of this writing and can’t stop thinking about it. Why? Two things..
1) Michael Fucking Parks A Smith and Tarantino mainstay, Parks has a real knack for delivering potentially laughable dialogue with panache. As the (literally) off-his-rocker sailor/surgeon, Howard Howe, he makes the words of a robust stoner into some sort of grotesque poetry. His commitment to batshit craziness is admirable and Smith is lucky to have him in his stable. Just remarkable.
2) The suit reveal So far Smith has managed to keep the images of Long as “full walrus” off of the internet, and if you’re going to see this thing anyway, better to experience it in a theater full of fellow weirdos. I thought I had a pretty decent idea of what to expect from the reveal and was pleasantly surprised to have underestimated the sheer sense of horror that came over me. It is highly disturbing and will have you covering your eyes with both flippers.
So, do I recommend Tusk? No. Do I think you should see it anyway? Sure. Just be sure you’re not in the bathroom when it redeems itself.