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TUSK (2014) review

September 23, 2014

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written by: Kevin Smith
produced by: William D. Johnson, Sam Englehardt, Shannon McIntosh & David Greathouse
directed by: Kevin Smith
rating: R (for some disturbing violence/gore, language and sexual content)
runtime: 102 min.
U.S. release date: September 19, 2014 (limited)

 

I didn’t stay for the end credits like I usually do, Kevin Smith’s latest film, “Tusk”. If I had I would’ve seen a clip of the writer/director explaining how the idea of a man transformed into a walrus by his kidnapper derived from an episode of his SModcast in which he and his co-host Scott Mosier discussed a classified ad that offered a free living situation to a lodger on the condition that he/she dress up in a walrus suit. Smith left it up to his Twitter followers to determine whether or not this ad was a set-up worthy of a movie adaptation. I wish they had said it wasn’t worthy, but Smith’s loyal followers are many. I also wish a good friend of Smith’s would’ve smacked him upside the head with a dose of reality, since this is not a good idea for a movie, which is one of the reasons why I bolted out of the theater as soon as it was over.

Wallace Bryton (Justin Long) is an arrogant thirtysomething who also doesn’t have a good friend to tell him his large mustache just doesn’t work. He co-hosts a popular podcast out of Los Angeles called The Not-See Party with his supposed good friend, Teddy Craft (Haley Joel Osment), in which Wallace shares humiliating online videos so they can ridicule the victims they target. Sometimes Wallace even travels to meet the individuals on these odd or bizarre videos, recording interviews for later podcast use. That’s how he winds up in Manitoba, Canada, after coming across a young man named Kill Bill Kid when his attempted prowess with a samurai sword in his garage (obviously a nod to the infamous Star Wars Kid) ends with the poor kid slicing off his own leg. Upon arriving, he learns that his interview opportunity has come to an abrupt end, but in an effort to make the most of his time up in the Great White North, he searches for another subject to make fun of – er, interview.

 

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In the men’s room of a local bar, he sees an ad offering free room and board and the guarantee of listening to a lifetime of adventures, primarily tales of being lost at sea. Something about the ad is alluring to Wallace, maybe it’s the nice handwriting and maybe it’s the promise of landing his next “weirdo”.

He drives almost two hours at night to a desolate area where a wheelchair-bound Howard Howe (Michael Parks, “Red State”) resides in a countryside estate. He presents himself as a kindly old man and offers Wallace tea while he recounts a life of adventure in return for assistance with chores. He emphasizes with enthusiasm one particular story from his youth when his ship sunk while searching for a legendary great white and how a walrus saved his life, bringing the younger Howard to an island and taking care of him and who knows whatever else. They became close, Howard even named him Mr. Tusk. Around this time, Wallace passes out from that potent tea. Having seen our share of movies, we knew all along that tea from a creepy old hermit is a bad move.

Wallace wakes up in a wheelchair and a drugged haze with his left leg amputated from the knee. A calm Howard divulges he was a victim of a brown recluse spider, whose poison would’ve killed him if his leg wasn’t taken care of. Wallace soon realizes that he’s a definitely a victim and it is soon revealed to him that he must lose his humanity as he will be transformed into a walrus. Howard has it all planned out.

 

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Too bad Kevin Smith doesn’t have it all planned out. Like, for example, if the demented and obsessive Howard had this all planned out, he wouldn’t have left Wallace’s cell phone in plain sight. Speaking of that phone, what kind of battery life does it have? It never seemed to lose juice like anyone else’s phone. That could’ve played into the tension of all this. But than Smith would’ve had no way to bring Teddy and Wallace’s girlfriend, Allison (Genesis Rodriguez), in from Los Angeles, who followed desperate voicemails up north to try to find Wallace. In their search for Wallace, they are joined by a rubber-faced private detective from Quebec named Guy (pronounced “Gee”) Lapointe, distractingly and ridiculously played by Johnny Depp.

Depp’s presence brings a tone that’s all wrong for this story, or at least for the kind of story this could’ve been. It’s like all of a sudden Tony Clifton has shown up in a movie that could’ve had an interesting Twilight Zone feel to it. To be fair, the first 15 or 20 minutes of the movie does indeed feel that way, but once Depp is introduced, with his awful make-up and ludicrous accent, the whole thing takes an unfortunate tonal shift away from what should be a macabre tale of desperation and obsession. From here on, as Smith goes back and forth between Howard and his now indistinguishable Wallace (notice, his name sounds like “Walrus”, mmmhmm) and the investigative threesome, the movie loses all sense of horror and suspense.

Sure there’s some grotesque and tragic imagery as we watch Wallace’s physical and psychological torment, but Smith’s brand of humor is too jarring. It’s obvious that by adding comic levity (even including Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk”), Smith didn’t want to go too dark with the feature, yet it’s all so frustrating. Frustrating because Parks is so great at being twisted malevolent and Long certainly does commit to being Smith’s smarmy avatar. Like “Red State” though, after a while, Smith can’t help but to get in the way of his material’s potential. In the end, “Tusk” felt drawn out and more stupid than silly, or scary, or whatever Smith was aiming for, it just didn’t work.

 

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RATING: *

 

 

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One Comment leave one →
  1. September 23, 2014 1:33 pm

    I guess I won’t be watching this one. Thanks!

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