Dir: Kevin Smith
Some artists follow an elusive muse, letting their unique worldview guide their work as they freely adapt source material. Stanley Kubrick always liked to take an existing novel or short story that was mediocre (he claimed Lolita was the only masterpiece he adapted) and try to improve it. Alfonso Cuarón was struck by the unique image of a woman cradling a newborn baby amidst a raging battle, and ended up building Children of Men (another adaptation) around this one scene. And then there’s Kevin Smith.
The prolific podcaster and sometimes-filmmaker was recently taken in by an online ad that promised free lodging to anyone willing to dress and act like a walrus for a few hours a day. While the ad turned out to be a well-perpetrated hoax, the seeds had been sown and an obsessed Smith put it to a popular vote on Twitter as to whether he should expand the story to a feature length film. After a resounding response of #WalrusYes hashtags, Smith put down his bong and went to work on making a film with perhaps one of the oddest origin stories in years.
The result is a mishmash of an obvious Human Centipede influence, the unchecked ramblings of a once-good writer seemingly filming his first draft, and one compelling performance amidst a sea of shit, with the worst of the lot being given by one of the biggest moviestars on the planet. To say it’s a mixed bag would be a gross understatement. It’s less a film and more a cinematic joke perpetrated on Smith’s waning fanbase and those who unwittingly cross its path. BUT, if you ever wanted to see a man tortured and surgically turned into a walrus, or witness a grown up (and awkward) Haley Joel Osment back on the silver screen then this is the movie for you. If you ever wondered if Kevin Smith could get any more self-absorbed or spiral deeper into the Ouroboros echo chamber of his own insular world while conceiving a movie about a podcaster while on a podcast, then this is the movie for you. I couldn’t stay away from this movie and my morbid curiousity was not rewarded. I have travelled the river Styx to emerge on the other side a changed man. My eyes are open and I am here to warn you about Tusk.
The story, such as it is, follows “rockstar podcaster” Wallace (a mustachioed Justin Long) who records his show with best friend Teddy (Haley Joel Osment). Wallace meets interesting and unique folks from all walks of life and returns to his studio to regale a giddy Teddy with his stories while they mock their subjects mercilessly. The name of the podcast – “The Not-See Party” (because Teddy and the listeners don’t see what Wallace does) – gives an indication of the kind of “humour” that’s to come. Upon learning of a “Star Wars Kid” type of video, Wallace decides to jet to Canada to meet this loser first hand so he can become further fodder for him and Teddy. After blowing off his inexplicably attractive and level-headed girlfriend Allison (Genesis Rodriguez) Wallace finds himself in Manitoba and discovers the kid has died, leaving him floundering for more meat for the grinder. Enter a cryptic note pinned on a community bulletin board that promises grand stories told by a man who’s lived many lives over – Howard Howe.
Howe is played by the distinctive character actor Michael Parks, a man experiencing a late-career resurgence after working with Quentin Tarantino (both Kill Bills) and Smith (on his previous film Red State). He’s a fascinating presence and does well with Smith’s wordy diatribes, providing a presence and spark to the film that was previously missing. Parks is far and away the best thing about Tusk, and for a while it becomes tolerable as he relates to Wallace a story of the happiest time in his life – when he was shipwrecked with a walrus that became his best friend, Mr. Tusk. The catch is, of course, that Howe is raving mad and looking to recreate that sacred bond betwixt man and walrus. After drugging the aloof and odious Wallace, he goes about systematically altering the crass podcaster (shades of masochism from Smith?) into a gruesome approximation of the flippered marine mammal. And that’s it, that’s the whole story.
That alone would fill about 45 minutes of screen time, so there’s a parallel plot of Allison and Teddy travelling to Canada to rescue Wallace after some frantic voicemails (why didn’t Wallace dial 911?). There’s numerous Canadian stereotypes encountered along the way, including Degrassi references, a misuse of the phrase “double-double” (it’s not, as Smith suggests, 8 creams and 1 sugar), and more “eh’s” and “aboot’s” than you can shake a hockey stick at. Some of the stuff is so broad it could be considered “maple-face” and that’s before the character of Guy Lapointe is introduced. Played by one of the biggest stars in the world (I won’t spoil the surprise), Lapointe is a French-Canadian detective that could be amusing but is instead head-shakingly awful. He gets long monologues that never end and is so dim and unfunny that Quebecers should be rioting in the streets about this sub-Forrest Gump parody.
Eventually all the characters cross paths in a climax that is (obviously) scored to Fleetwood Mac’s pulse-pounding hit “Tusk”. There’s little rising action leading up to it and eventually the movie just ends with a shrug, as it to say “I think that’s 90 minutes of material”. Let me assuage you of any need to see this movie: the walrus costume is cool in concept but it’s shown in bright light, ruining any mystique and draining Tusk of any true horror; everyone’s bad in the film except for Parks; characters act dumb; and there are some scenes that will give you a serious urge to check your phone, do the dishes, vacuum your house, or do anything other than watch what’s onscreen. A wannabe cult film cobbled together from components of other movies and assembled half-assedly and hastily, Tusk commits the most egregious sin of all for a movie with such an interesting logline – it’s boring. Remarkable only as an oddity that proves that sometimes the democratization of modern moviemaking is not a good thing, Tusk is to be avoided at all costs.