Kevin Smith has made a film that should not, for all intents and purposes, be allowed to exist. Not enough gore or viscera to be considered body horror, but with too many moments akin to mad scientist slasher films to be a full-fledged comedy, “Tusk” is a movie that seems to want to defy definition. Generic confusion aside, Smith’s film has a premise that — if it hadn’t been produced independently by his own studio SModcast Pictures — would have made it kryptonite to any regular film studio.
All of that said, I really liked this movie. More than I probably should have. The plot of “Tusk” is simple enough: Wallace Bryton (Justin Long) is a podcaster whose show with co-star Teddy Craft (Haley Joel Osment) leads him to Canada in search of interesting stories he can retell to his audience. Leaving behind his girlfriend Ally (Genesis Rodriguez) and partner Teddy, he comes across a mysterious note in a bar bathroom which offers him the opportunity to hear the various life stories of former sailor Howard Howe (Michael Parks). Unfortunately for Wallace, Howe’s true intention is to turn whoever answers the ad into his perfect companion, the walrus Mr. Tusk, and in doing so, answer the age-old question, “Is man truly a walrus at heart?”
The problems with “Tusk” also happen to be its greatest strengths. The film, plot and all, spawned from an episode of Smith’s highly popular SModcast that he records with long-time friend and producer Scott Mosier. As such, the entirety of the feature is a love letter to the fans of his podcasting network, riddled with in-jokes concerning various podcasts he produces, as well as being a send-up to slasher films of the past, for instance homaging scenes like the family dinner in “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” While this proves highly entertaining for fans of Smith’s work or cinephiles like myself, the uninformed would find the moments where Smith winks at the camera to be confusing or entirely unnecessary.
By itself, “Tusk” is a movie that will appeal to a highly niche audience. So ludicrous in its conception and execution, it plays like a film that wants to keep its viewers constantly anticipating where it goes; and in this aspect, it succeeds completely. One moment, the viewer will be laughing at the performance of the former detective Guy Lapointe (purported in the film to be played by Guy Lapointe), and the next moment will show Howe torturing Wallace and attempting to drown him. These transitions are so whiplash-inducing that sometimes they can come off as confused, almost as though Smith wasn’t entirely sure of the genre he wanted to create. However, as stated before, this is a symptom that Smith is making this movie for nobody but himself and his fans.
Aside from the issues with plotting, the acting in the film is remarkably well done. Michael Parks does a magnificent job of playing the quietly insane Howard Howe, who at a moment’s notice will fly into inane monologues about the nature of man and our total inferiority to the pure mind and body of the walrus. Additionally, Justin Long plays well as a fairly unlikeable hero, finding himself the captive and subject of Howe’s obsession with the majestic walrus. The film really shines, however, in the casting of its side characters, specifically in the role of Lapointe. Lapointe is far and away the funniest character in the film, having once been a detective from Quebec, but falling into an alcoholic depression and partially losing his mind when he failed to capture Howe years before.
Ultimately, as I write this review, the best metaphor I can find for explaining this movie is to call it a butter popcorn-flavored jellybean. Some people find the very idea stupid and wouldn’t bother to give it a second thought after that. For those of us who like that flavor though, we don’t mind its stupidity, because at the end of the day, we enjoy it in spite of (or perhaps because of) how dumb it is.
If you are a fan of Smith’s podcasts or his films, then definitely check this movie out because it was made specifically with you in mind. Likewise, if you’ve never heard of Smith or seen his films, but don’t mind walking out of a theater in a state of emotional confusion, then give it a go provided you have the time and money to see this limited release. For anybody else however, this movie can easily prove to be overwhelming or frustrating — and understandably so — as it does have problems where a wide audience is concerned and fails completely as an introduction to Smith’s work. Just remember, if you don’t see it, more “Tusk” and popcorn jellybeans for the rest of us.
Rating: 3.5 stars