When podcaster Wallace Bryton goes missing in the backwoods of Manitoba while interviewing a mysterious seafarer named Howard Howe, his best friend Teddy and girlfriend Allison team with an ex-cop to look for him.
Save your money for Sea World, kids.
Writer/director, Kevin Smith goes full-walrus in his newest independent film, ‘Tusk‘. I had high hopes for a film that basically saw the light of day because of a joke on Smith’s podcast; I guess that was my first mistake. I saw this film yesterday, and only one other moviegoer was in the theater, and that’s no big deal or early warning system because I often find myself at obscure films that show early in the day. In this occasion, however, it was like one of those venomous reptiles with a glowing red marking on it’s back, the kind that practically scream for you to keep your distance. I can picture Smith with a hot red streak in his goatee now.
Horror films that tow a ridiculous premise can be glorious and surprisingly fun, even terrifying. Unlike clever horror films with a ridiculous premise, like ‘Detention‘ for example. ‘Tusk‘ was more off-putting hype within the confines of the actual film, than actual body modification horror. I know I don’t have to mention how idiotic, yet inherently horrific a film like ‘Human Centipede’ was for this sub-genre. ‘Tusk‘ wants you to be aware of the terror of having your body reshaped to that of a walrus; and, yes, I know the crux of the sentence even looks stupid, but Smith seemed intent on making you sweat without showing much of the terror that goes hand in hand.
I admire the hell out of Smith. ‘Clerks‘ and ‘Dogma‘ are two of my favorite films and represent his fanboy-geek-gone-legit status properly. Smith is a fantastic writer, director, and walking nerd encyclopedia. The guy is a benefit to the comic-loving fan base that fluffs him up continuously, and he seems like a cool guy as well. Still, compliments notwithstanding, Smith needed some extra advice on this film. ‘Tusk‘ would have benefited greatly from a co-writer, or even a good friend to say “Dude, that sucks. Rewrite.” Before I completely trash this horror entry, I should mention how very stylish and beautiful the film was from a directorial standpoint.’Tusk‘ doesn’t look like any of Smith’s earlier films, not even his horror breakout, ‘Red State’, the 2011 horror debut that properly used the A+ talents of veteran actor, Michael Parks.
Smith’s dialogue misses the mark and renders a talented cast relatively weak in my opinion. Justin Long portrays Wallace (not WALrus, that comes later) well, an obnoxious podcaster and womanizing tool that has no self-awareness in the realm of mustaches. Wallace makes a comfortable living making fun of people on his popular show, and miserably fails to see the cautionary take unfolding before him. Does it make what happens to him okay? Nope, but I did wonder repeatedly how something like this could happen in this age of hyper-awareness. Some of Long’s dialogue is utterly stunted and made me cringe a time or two. When Smith is firing on all cylinders, he is a force of nature. Sadly, when he’s failing, he’s failing hard.
If anyone uses the compromised script to an advantage, it’s Michael Parks, who could sound intense at a Valvoline Instant Oil Change. Parks plays the villain here, the walrus-obsessed, scarred seafarer, Howard Howe. While his motivations didn’t make sense even after his long explanation on what led him to create a human walrus, I do credit him for approaching the idiotic role with zeal. He’s a terrifying bad guy and compelling actor, it’s a shame his talents were so watered down by a terrible script.
The film’s supporting actors, Haley Joel Osment, Genesis Rodriguex, and Johnny Depp offer some occasional relief, but their roles range from dry and uninspired, to ridiculous. There’s one scene in the second act, between Parks and Johnny Depp, that felt like a miniseries it lasted so long. Seeing amazing actors deliver dialogue that would be more at home in the ‘Scary Movie’ franchise, was bitter to my palette. Hearing Park talk with a mush mouthed simpleton accent made my face contort. I couldn’t see the face of the guy in the front row, but I have to assume his silence was coming from a place of extreme dissatisfaction as well.
Well, I’ve laid waste to the story, the acting, and the pacing. The only thing left is the walrus suit. While I’ll always be a fan of practical effects, Long’s stitched together, prolific fat folds ruined the film on a base level. Don’t get me wrong, this ship was sinking 20 minutes in; this was just the last, weird straw for me. Imagine a demented nightmare version of the Michelin Tire mascot, and here’s your human-walrus. Terrible. Just terrible. Long’s character was such an ass, that the viewers just won’t care. When he finally got his long-toothed comeuppance, I literally thought “Ha. Good.”
Sorry, Smith. Sorry, fans of Smith, myself included. This film has no lasting impact other than the occasional reference of “Yeah, it was bad, but not ‘Tusk’ bad.” This is not a deal-breaker by any means. Great bands release terrible records. Great filmmakers occasionally release terrible films. Not every role, every idea, or every inspiration is going to mesmerize fans of cinema, but I can see the bigger picture here. I hated ‘Clerks 2‘ and ‘Chasing Amy‘ as well, but I still paid money to see this flick. As long as Smith is making films, I’ll probably see them. ‘Tusk‘ is terrible and unless you just worship Smith and/or horror, you should skip it.
My apologies to Fleetwood Mac fans who had to see this killer song pitted against overwhelmingly bad taste. You might never get the mackerel taste out of your mouths.