Picture if you will a young movie critic walking into the movie Tusk, written and directed by Kevin Smith. This critic is a big fan of Smith’s films, ranging from the slacker classic Clerks, to his mediation on love in Chasing Amy, to his ridiculous road trip/buddy movie Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. The critic believes that Smith is a man of comedy and infinite nerd wisdom, so he expects Tusk to be some kind of nerdy comedy.
Now picture that same young critic walking out of the movie Tusk. That critic is…confused, to say the least. Sure, he laughed on occasion, but he was more confounded at the cinematic mash-up that he just watched. This is the result of Tusk, a film that will certainly have fans of Smith scratching their heads by the end credits.
Based around Smith’s SModcast 259 entitled “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” the film follows podcaster Wallace Bryton (a mustached Justin Long). He and his buddy Teddy (The Sixth Sense star Haley Joel Osment, older and chubbier) host “The Not-See Party” show, where people send in embarrassing videos of themselves to be discussed on the air. Wallace, a former struggling comedian turned semi-rich/semi-famous jerk, takes a trip to Canada to find a star for his next show. When that plan goes south, he finds an ad posted by an old man looking for company in his lonely estate. That old man is Howard Howe (the sophisticated but scary Michael Parks), who claims to have seen D-Day with Ernest Hemingway and survived being stranded on an island with nothing but the company of a walrus. Unfortunately for Wallace, Mr. Howe is not all he seems to be, except for an obvious walrus fanatic. He finds them astonishing, intelligent and far better than humans. So much so that he wishes to be amongst walruses again, even if that means he has to make one…out of Wallace.
The star of this movie is clearly Mr. Parks, who was equally disturbing in Smith’s exploitation of the Westboro Baptist Church, Red State. He’s sincere and well spoken, but sinister and unsympathetic to human beings. He gets juicy material from Smith’s writing, and his disheveled face is all the more creepy. Long’s Wallace is a great horror movie character; a loud, rude jerk that gets what’s coming to him in such an extreme way. Smith does a great job revealing Wallace’s character by using flashbacks to moments with Wallace’s girlfriend, Ally (the gorgeous Genesis Rodriguez), who misses the wimpy failing comic and hates the cocky a-hole that Wallace has become. Regardless, Smith also ends up scoring one of the biggest stars in the world as a supporting character. Who is it? No spoilers, because it’s too good to give away.
Tusk has a lot of great parts to put together, but Smith wasn’t able to pick what kind of movie he wanted to make. On occasion the film can be disturbing in its visuals, especially in the scenes with Wallace and his captor. Then, there are moments that are funny, but in a strange-funny and not joke/punch line-funny kind of way. The laughs are more from how bizarre the movie is than from actual jokes. Some scenes also stretch out for too long, so much so that a good 10-20 minutes could be cut and not damage the story. Smith may be trying to build suspense and terror, but the film is just too bizarre to be considered horrifying.
When the film ends, Tusk ends up looking like a passion project for Smith and less a commentary on social issues like his typical fair. In fact, with its crazy scientist mixing species, terrified subject and grotesque final product, Tusk seems like Smith’s parody of another infamous creature feature: remember The Human Centipede? Yup, I went there. Kevin Smith seems content with the bizarre story, and his actor’s trying to out-awkward each other. But this leads to Tusk not having a clear genre. It seems like Smith wanted to put this freaky story on film and not use his nerdy comic imagination to expand and make it seem more complete. Tusk isn’t a bad film, far from it, but it would’ve been really interesting to see one of Hollywood’s leading comic-book men (no pun intended) go full horror on a project. Until then, feel free to bask in the WTF-ness of Tusk.
Final Verdict: 2.5 out of 4 stars