2014 - 102 minutes
Directed by: Kevin Smith
Written by: Kevin Smith
Starring: Michael Parks, Justin Long, Genesis Rodriguez, Haley Joel Osment
Tusk isn’t the greatest movie ever (or of this year, or of this month), but it’s kinda great that it exists. After swearing to step away from filmmaking, Kevin Smith took to this newfangled media called “podcasting,” building a mini-empire thanks to his ability to spin entertaining extemporaneous yarns. During one episode of his SModcast, Smith and longtime producer Scott Mosier pondered a peculiar online ad that offered free lodging as long as the lodger agreed to dress in a walrus costume for a couple hours a day. Over the course of an hour, the pair roughly sketched out a body horror pitch that involved being quite literally turned into a walrus. Their synopsis (with some narrative pumping up, of course) became Tusk. You could call it a dare or a lark, but there’s something to following through on a whimsical, at times nonsensical, idea. And there’s something to Tusk.
Wallace (Justin Long) and partner Teddy (Haley Joel Osment) co-host the Not-See Podcast, in which the pair mercilessly mock the odd characters found on the fringes of YouTube. Wallace travels to interview the subjects, while Teddy stays behind (that’s where the Not-See part comes in). The latest target is a young man from Manitoba who seriously injured himself in a home movie, but by the time Wallace gets to the Great White North the interviewee has become unavailable. Unhappy with the financial loss incurred, Wallace is encouraged by a bathroom ad from a man wishing for a lodger to help with daily chores and be audience for some of his astonishing tales. Wallace drives to the secluded estate and meets wheelchair-bound Howard Howe (Michael Parks). Engrossed by Howard’s stories of survival at sea and an encounter with Ernest Hemingway, Wallace is drugged by the storyteller who soon reveals his plan to transform the arrogant podcaster into a beast resembling the walrus he befriended during a particularly harrowing time at sea.
Smith’s geek show successfully straddles the line of horrific and absurdly comedic, with Parks expertly captivating us with his tales and astounding us with his depth of madness. One of the best scenes in the film is Howard’s initial meeting with Wallace, where Parks’ engrossing aura draws us in while suggesting the inevitable dread to come. If there’s an actor who can keep our attention even with an at-times purposefully incomprehensible low rumbling diction, it’s Parks. He also fully sells the quiet insanity of a guy who would excavate someone’s femur and use it as a tusk on the fleshy, blubbery walrus uniform he’s concocted. You could question some of the more mundane narrative necessities such as: why would this seemingly smooth operating wacko allow his victim access to a cellphone? Answer: ‘cause he’s a wacko who’s turning a man into a walrus.
Even when accepting the crazy scenario, however, there are some more perfunctory aspects of Tusk that occasionally gum up the works. After the desperate call from said cellphone, Teddy and Wallace’s damaged girlfriend Ally (Genesis Rodriguez) head to Canada to investigate. Smith tries a bit too hard to explain away the lack of police intervention – some involving misunderstanding the meaning of “Not-See” – but fails to ask simple questions like inability to track a cellphone. Osment and Rodriguez handle the Smith-isms of the screenplay well, but eventually fade to the background when paired with eccentric investigator Guy LaPointe, played by an A-lister you may be surprised to see, who chews the scenery a bit too hard and feels at times like an out-of-place SCTV sketch. There’s a bizarro scene with LaPointe and Howe that runs way too long to maintain its strange charm.
What’s gloriously strange is the concept, how it germinated, and seeing it come to fruition with layers of stitched latex. Although Tusk is never nightmare-inducing or sidesplitting, Smith deftly manages the tonal inconsistencies and sews together a deranged little monster.