REVIEW: Tusk [2014]

Score: 6/10 | ★ ★ ½

Rating: R | Runtime: 102 minutes | Release Date: September 19th, 2014 (USA)
Studio: A24 / Demarest Films
Director(s): Kevin Smith
Writer(s): Kevin Smith

“I believe we’re all tea people”

I want to dismiss Kevin Smith‘s second foray into horror as total bullshit. I really do. Not only was Tusk created on a lark because one of his and Scott Mosier‘s internet Smodcasts recorded them discussing a crazy Gumtree ad offering a room for rent if the lodger agreed to wear a walrus suit, but because the “ad” in question was itself a fictitious prank by poet Chris Parkinson. Smith’s listeners voted to have a film made out of the restructured, warped version of this gag that he and Mosier crafted (as if they fans would have voted no for any topic he posed), an 80-page script was written, and a movie was born. Not just one movie either, but a planned thematic trilogy strung together by cast and Canadian setting. And I kind of liked it.

Liked. As in, “That was a crazy ride, but boy was it utter nonsense I’d rather let fade away than think too hard about.” Because that’s what Tusk truly is: a throwaway which if nothing else passes the time via a unique, screwed up story proving Smith has his creative juices flowing once more. This is a guy who talked about retirement after completing his hockey opus Hit Somebody before it sprawled into a trilogy, evolved through rumor into a television release, and evaporated with lack of funding. Instead he produced some cartoons with Jason Mewes, wrote a Clerks III script, and commenced his True North saga (chapter two entitled Yoga Hosers is currently filming). Tusk might be senseless, tonally all over the place, and often laughable in the worst way, but at least its fresh.

It also feels like Kevin Smith. Moreso than anything—save Clerks II—he’s done since 1999’s Dogma. The opening is vintage View Askew with podcasters Wallace Bryton (Justin Long) and Teddy Craft (Haley Joel Osment) spewing forth raunch in a rapid-fire rat-ta-tat for their highly successful show “The Not-See Party”. There’s more giggling than actual words as they lambast overnight YouTube sensation “The Kill Bill Kid”—homage to “Star Wars Kid” but with an added flourish—before Wallace explains how he is setting off for Manitoba to interview the poor soul. Suffice it to say, he soon finds himself in Winnipeg, empty-handed and needing interesting subject matter to make buying his plane ticket worthwhile. This is when he spies Howard Howe’s (Michael Parks) ad promising a wealth of stories perfectly suited to Wallace’s shtick.

There’s sex talk between Long and his girlfriend Ally (Genesis Rodriguez) who misses the old, sweet Wallace she fell in love with; overdone Canadian gags at a convenience store operated by Smith’s daughter Harley Quinn and Johnny Depp‘s Lily-Rose Melody; and the glorious Parks arrives with his captivating voice spinning yarns about Ernest Hemingway, his flatulent wife, and the walrus named Mr. Tusk who once saved him when he was lost at sea. It’s all so outlandish and yet Smith renders it with the utmost severity as we learn to loathe Long’s obnoxious dickhead until we can’t wait for Parks’ dulcet tones to turn evil. The initial extended moment of Wallace hanging on every one of Howe’s words is tensely enjoyable and I begun to wonder if Smith had found his stride with the genre.

Well, he hasn’t shed the comedic bent completely because from this point on the farce gets so overblown I couldn’t decipher whether I was laughing with the movie or at it. For every nervous chuckle at Parks’ menacing actions against a wailing Long there’s three outrageous guffaws at the absolute stupidity of what’s onscreen. Smith goes Tarantino by going back in time to show things unnecessarily out-of-order that we don’t need to know like an “is it or isn’t it affair” between Ally and Teddy that’s forgotten as quickly as it’s introduced. Then he gives us Québécois ex-cop Guy Lapointe (Depp) who’s dressed like Édgar Ramírez from Carlos and repeats himself to excruciatingly annoying effect. And don’t even get me started on the flashback sequence between Depp and Parks that’s merely a game of who can sound funnier.

The final product is so wildly off-the-wall that you honestly don’t know how to react when first seeing Long in complete walrus suit glory since this telling of the faux Gumtree ad forces the guest into one rather than request. It’s an effective Leatherface-esque prosthetic that definitely places Smith in foreign territory as a director used to low-budget conversation showcases. I will say this: he has his hands full behind the camera and actually does a bang-up job visually if not tonally. Credit his handling the cast too because they all buy into the concept and go for broke no matter what insanity awaits them. Rodriguez and Osment teeter towards going too broad as Depp embraces his full-blown caricature, but Long and Parks possess a fierceness that’s perfectly creepy and engrossing when not intentionally playing for laughs.

Those two are dialed-in during the unintentional laughs too, though. And trust me, there’s plenty. Would I have enjoyed seeing these performances and the concept in a bona fide horror without laughs? Sure. I think this thing had the potential of being uniquely scary in its surrealistic weirdness. I wonder what David Lynch would have done and bask in that potential, but this is Kevin Smith’s baby and he’s a comedy guy. Thankfully the dude knows how to laugh at himself and seems aware that Tusk is a train wreck curio not easily ignored after it latches on, so you have to applaud the sheer audacity of the effort regardless of success. I see it as the indie Hollywood equivalent of The 48 Hour Film Project—something polish and edits would help if only they had the time.

[1] courtesy of TIFF
[2-3] courtesy of A24

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