FILM REVIEW: Tusk (2014)

Tusk, the new film from Kevin Smith (Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Red State), has no right to be as charming and fun as it ends up being. On paper, the idea sounds bat-shit crazy - not that it’s a surprise since it’s coming from the guy who birthed "Bluntman and Chronic" and lives out almost every inner-geek’s fantasies on a daily basis. Tusk  is the first film of a planned Canada-set trilogy from Smith dubbed “True North”, with Yoga Hosers  and Moose Jaws  to follow. It performed very poorly at the box office, but will surely find a following on home video. (Much like every other Smith film)

The story follows podcaster named Wallace Bryton (Justin Long) as he travels to Canada to interview the “Kill Bill Kid”, a kid who rose to notoriety after he cuts his leg off wielding a samurai sword. The ordeal was put on YouTube and the clip went viral. However, after all of the ridicule he receives, the kid kills himself – leaving Wallace in Canada with nothing to do. While in the bathroom of a local dive, he sees a hand-written ad from one Howard Howe (The always amazing Michael Parks), a world traveler looking to tell his adventure stories to anyone interested in hearing them. Wallace sees this as an opportunity to give him something to do before his flight home and also to potentially have a bizarre story to fill one of his podcasts. Little does he know that Howard wants to turn Wallace into a walrus. Yes, you’re reading that correctly; a walrus. He’s already sporting a pretty legitimate walrus ‘stache, but we’re talking a living, breathing creature with blubber and whiskers and, yes, tusks. When Wallace’s girlfriend Ally (Genesis Rodriguez) and his podcasting partner Teddy (Haley Joel Osment – Yes, The Sixth Sense kid  is still alive) both get voicemails from Wallace saying that he’d been abducted and that his abductor cut off his leg and planned to turn him into “…an animal or something…” they head to the great white north to search for him. As their search continues they are joined by an investigator, Guy LaPointe (played by an almost unrecognizable Johnny Depp, although he looks a lot more like an almost unrecognizable Val Kilmer), who ran into Howard a couple of years prior. The three form an odd investigation group of sorts and Depp provides some of the funnier elements of the film. The third intertwines their search and Howard’s lunatic antics while he interacts with Wallace.

Now, let’s talk about what we came here to see: The Walrus! Luckily, we get to see “Wally the Walrus” in all his glory midway through the film instead of waiting for a big dramatic reveal in the finale. This is a move that pleased me, but also provides some of my biggest issues with the film. The walrus just isn't believable and is almost comically so unbelievable that all of the elements of tension and horror that were building so nicely pretty much gets the rug swept out from under. I know, I know - it’s a walrus and there’s almost no way to make it believable. I just wanted it to be more medically accurate. If only Tom Six would have produced the film and thrown in some of his Human Centipede  species-swapping to the mix. I wanted to feel Wallace’s pain and despair and horrifying realization that this was now his life, but the walrus just felt lifeless. And that may very well have to do with Justin Long’s *superb* acting abilities. And don’t let me hear anyone try and say that it’s hard to relay emotions with no speech because certain members of The Guilty Remnant from HBO’s wildly underrated The Leftovers  never said a word the entire season and they made us feel every one of those emotions listed above. I think I just wanted the Frankenstein  of modern cinema to be a bit more mesmerizing. It’s the acting that truly shines in this film, though.

And we’re back at Michael Parks. The man is a true master. He captivates and steals the show in every movie and scene he’s in. From “The Sherriff” in Kill Bill, From Dusk Til Dawn  and Grindhouse  to Smith’s last film, Red State, the man knows how to work the room. He’s funny when he needs to be, he conveys the sadness and longing for a time long gone when he explains why he needs to create this walrus and he perfectly shows how much of a lunatic this guy really is. I honestly can’t think of another actor more suited for this part. If nothing else, see this film for Michael Parks.

Not to be outdone, Johnny Depp is incredible in a role that was initially offered to Quentin Tarantino. What starts out as somewhat silly and forced, turns into a terrific role that counter-balances the utter insanity that is the plot of the film. And what’s even more incredible is that hardly anyone knew Depp was even in the damn movie. It shows an actor that, despite his lengthy and lucrative career, still loves to just act – even if it’s in a film that took only 18 days to shoot. 18 days! Red State  was shot in 25 days and Clerks  was shot in 21. Smith knows how to keep a schedule short and sweet. 

As I mentioned above, Justin Long is not my favorite actor, but maybe that’s why he’s great for this role; so we can see him suffer. The rest of the cast is pretty phoned in with the exception of Smith and Depp’s own daughters, who star as clerks at a store Wallace visits and who will also be the leading ladies of the next film in this series, Yoga Hosers. Most importantly, everyone just seems to be having a lot of fun and that really shows on screen.

I've heard a number of people that wouldn't classify Smith’s last film Red State  as horror, but there are religious zealots, abductions and torture so, I always have. That would make this Smith’s second foray into the genre. Should he keep it up? I think so. He could definitely push the envelope a bit more and up the gruesomeness, but there are other ways to scare without just bloodshed. From the sound of it, Moose Jaws  may very well fit into the genre as well since it’s exactly like it sounds: Jaws  with a Moose instead of a shark, which is basically all Lake Placid  was, but with an alligator. Smith’s best trait is comedy, though, and as long as he keeps sprinkling that into his horror – I think they’ll continue being memorable films. You can digitally download from numerous outlets or wait for December 30th for a DVD / Blu-Ray release at Redbox and all retailers.

Also...did we mention Genesis Rodriguez? Not sure if we did...or not...

Matt, Signing Out