In film these days the three act structure is law and modern audiences get confused when movies don’t go the way their sub-conscious minds are used to. Stories rarely surprise people these days; now the best we can get are moments in a movie that may trick us, but the story always remains the same. Writer, director, and podcaster Kevin Smith has squarely taken on the challenge of going against his comedy roots and the old film standards in his latest film, Tusk. Spun off from lark on one of his podcasts with BFF and long time collaborator (except this time), Scott Mosier, Smith took the concept that had him and listeners dying with laughter and turned it into the feature film out today.
The film is drastically dark and filled to the brim with treats for the podcast fans, but has the cult comedy icon made a movie too far out of his comfort zone and too inside Smodcast for audiences?
I will proudly admit that I am a Kevin Smith fan, and if I’m gonna be honest he’s been an inspiration for my life’s current path. His unique blend of humor tailored for the disenfranchised youth has made him a fan favorite since his film debut with Clerks. Since then his fan base and grown and followed him from film, to his Evening with… series, and to his podcasting empire, Smodcast. It’s with this same fan base in mind that told Smith to carry this riff about a Walrus suit with Mosier and turn it into a film with the social media campaign #WalrusYes.
Tusk follows the wholly unlikeable character of Wallace (Justin Long), an American in the mysterious Great White North of Canada who’s in search of stories to take back to his co-host and best friend Teddy (Haley Joel-Osment) for their podcast “The Not-See Party.” As Wallace makes his way towards his inevitable fate he spares no expense at dispensing his dry cruel wit at just about everyone he comes across. It makes it difficult later to care much about him as he’s slowly mutilated and de-humanized.
Although everyone is doing a great job in the movie, Michael Parks is chilling as Howard Howe. The mad scientist that is Howe lacks all humanity and empathy as he carelessly hacks into Wallace with almost childlike glee. Smith’s love for Parks shows that the part was written with him solely in mind and Park gets to pull out all the stops. The meeting between Long and Parks will showcase Park’s talent as he tells his own version of Quint’s Indianapolis story from Jaws, and then you’ll be confused later when he howls like a crazy person.
It should definitely go without saying that Tusk is a crazy movie. It is, after all, about a man who turns another man into a walrus because he really loves walruses, or at least one for a time. It’s Smith’s farthest departure from the stoned mischief makers of Jay and Silent Bob, although not his first departure. In 2011 he made Red State where he first collaborated with Parks in what felt like a much more believable tale of religious fanatics. It pains me to say it as a Kevin Smith fan, but Tusk is just too out there.
The Human Centipede-esque aspect of the film only fills around half of the story, as Wallace’s cheated on girlfriend Ally (Genesis Rodriguez) and fellow podcaster Teddy follow the Wallace’s trail following a frightening voice mail left on their phones. This leads them through a fistfull of characters including Smith’s daughter, Johnny Depp’s daughter, and Garmy Commander-in-Chief himself, Ralph Garman. Each non-Canadian actor plays up the ah’boots pretty hard for laughs, but no one takes it farther than Guy Lapointe, aka Johnny Depp as Guy Lapointe. If the girls and Garman are characterizations of Canadians, then Guy Lapointe is to French Canadia as Peppy Le Pew is to regular France. Buried under prosthesis Lapointe gives a familiar Gonzo / Captain Jack style performance that we’ve become numb to. His role in the film is to give the audience back story to Howe and lead the podcast-keteers into the final mouth of madness. Unfortunately the scene slows down the already simmering pace of the movie.
Spoilers in case you don’t know, but the chances are if you’re going to see Tusk you’re already a Smith and Smodcast fan, which means you’ve heard this already; Long goes “Full walrus” by around the middle of the movie and things go from creepy to unsettling. The patchwork walrus suit contructed by Howe is like something out of a Clive Barker daydream. The suit entirely encompasses Long, leaving only his eyes and lower jaw free to work with and honestly, Long kills it here. With so little to work with he still conveys fear, remorse, and madness.
At the climax of the movie everything goes completely off the rails as Howe reveals his motives and Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk” kicks things into overdrive. It’s a jam of a song if not for being a little on the nose, but references like this are showered all over the movie, most of them revolving around Smodcast’s all-star podcasts, which makes Tusk a movie for a relatively small audience, if you count a few million as small that is.
It does seem to be the movie that Smith wanted it to be from its inception; unique, unapologetic, and cringe worthy. I was only expecting something quicker paced and maybe a little tighter of a story. At the other end of the movie it feels too funny for a horror, too scary for a comedy, and just off the mark for a dark comedy. Already three quarters into production, his next movie inspired from Smodcast Yoga Hoosiers will be a follow up in a trilogy of films taking place in the nefarious north known as Canada. We’re not entirely sure if it will follow in suit with Tusk and also be a horror film, but the finale of the franchise, MooseJaws, sounds like it’s shaping up to be more of a creature feature.