Film

Published on September 25th, 2014 | by Chris Scott

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Tusk Review

I’ve never met him, but I love Kevin Smith. I love his films. I love his Q&As. I love his podcasts. I love that the guy loves hockey, and comic books, and nearly every other geeky thing I enjoy. He seems like a super cool guy that you would like to hang out with. But like anyone, he’s not perfect. His films have missteps. He sometimes goes a bit too far in his talks to the point that you feel bad for his wife and kid. And well… he is a New Jersey Devils fan.

While making and promoting his last film, Red State, Smith lost his mind. He nearly flushed his entire career down the toilet in an act of rebellion against the movie industry that had given him his voice. He felt wronged by the systems and took it out on anyone he could. Movie executives, critics, even some of his fans came under fire. He became a Hollywood pariah that was too fat to fly and too far gone to get someone to finance his films. So he sat around getting baked, talking into a microphone daily via a series of podcasts. On these podcasts he talked about being done with filmmaking. Done with telling stories via that medium. He had lost his passion for the art form and was going to ride off into the sunset.

The funny thing about art though is that as an artist, you don’t get to just stop being one. Smith, by his own admission, isn’t a great filmmaker, but he is a great storyteller and through his podcasts, stories just kept coming out. On one of these podcasts, Smith and his longtime friend Scott Mosier talked about a weird advertisement where a landlord would grant a room in his house as long as the renter agreed to dress like a walrus. Smith thought this would make for a great movie, but no one would ever make it. He asked his legion of Twitter followers if they thought he should do it, and if so to tweet him #WalrusYes. Buoyed by the massive support, Smith took to scripting what would become Tusk.

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While Tusk takes its inspiration from that weird quirky news story, it is a much darker and sinister tale than the one Smith and Mosier discussed. And because of that, Tusk is for all intents and purposes a horror film. Horror is uncharted territory for Smith who, for most of his career sans Red State, has made dialog-heavy comedies. That sense of comedic dialog is present in Tusk, mostly coming early on in the form of Wallace (Justin Long) and later by Inspector Guy Lapointe (Johnny Depp).

Wallace is an over-the-top podcaster that travels around looking for new things to make fun of with his buddy Teddy (Haley Joel Osment). Wallace heads to Canada to interview a guy that accidently cut off his leg playing with a katana but between Los Angeles and Manitoba, the interviewee kills himself. Wallace, left in Canada without a story, sees an advertisement in a bar bathroom proclaiming tales of adventure and sets out on a two-hour journey north to hear these tales and not go home empty-handed. The tales are spun by Howard Howe (Michael Parks), an eccentric old man in a wheel chair. Howe tells of being shipwrecked, rescued by a Walrus, and ultimately how he regrets having to eat his seafaring friend to stay alive.  He also has more sinister motivations than just telling Wallace his story, and they mostly involve turning the snarky podcaster into a walrus. Parks is great as Howe and transitions from tired old man to a scheming mastermind with twisted visions that would make Human Centipede director Tom Six proud.

Depp’s Guy Lapointe comes in to play after Wallace has been missing for a few days, and he sets out to help Teddy and Wallace’s girlfriend (Genesis Rodriguez) find their friend. Lapointe is a loon that believes a serial killer is loose in Canada, kidnapping people and turning them into monsters of sorts. He’s right, of course, but it is easy to see why no one would ever believe Lapointe because Depp plays him as completely crackpot. Depp’s performance is super enjoyable if utterly unnecessary to the overall story.

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And this is the big problem with Tusk: too much of the story is unnecessary. While it is all enjoyable separately, when viewed as a whole, its pacing stutters quite a bit. Depp and Rodriguez both give great performances (Depp comedic, Rodriguez dramatic), but they don’t help to advance the story any. The same end point could have been achieved without them and would have made for a crisper, more-focused story. I assume some of this comes from Smith not truly understanding the horror genre and some of it comes from Smith, who also edited this film, not wanting to let go of anything in his return to feature filmmaking. As I said before: he isn’t a particularly great filmmaker.

Pacing issues aside, I enjoyed Tusk. It is equal parts funny and horrifying. The moment Howe reveals his masterpiece elicited a horrified laugh out of myself and nearly everyone else in the crowd. Am I supposed to laugh at it because it is pretty horrifying? But it looks so damn absurd… what to do?

For Smith, this conundrum is a win. Tusk is his best film in years, probably since Clerks II. It is a film that you can see he put himself into both creatively and figuratively. As a creator, he seems recharged. The dialog is tight and crisp, just like his best works, and he seems to revel in the challenge of telling a horror tale but on his terms. As a person, Smith seems to have come to grips with the way things are and be comfortable with who he is and doing what he does. Wallace’s character is very much Smith putting himself into the film and expressing his knowledge of his faults and weaknesses and embracing them. And by embracing them instead of trying to change them, he’s given his fans exactly what they want – Kevin Smith making Kevin Smith movies.

 

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