It seems conceivable that there could be kids nowadays who are fully aware of Kevin Smith as an internet celebrity, public speaker, host of many podcasts, reality TV star, prolific social media user etc. without knowing that he was once a moderately acclaimed indie filmmaker. It does seem that making films is just something he does on the side now, and the genesis of his latest movie Tusk appears to support that (he even put his twitter handle on the poster rather than just his name).
The whole absurd premise for this movie originated in an episode of Smith’s podcast (the audio of which he tastelessly plays over the end credits) wherein he recounted the story of a man who’d let someone live with him for free on the condition that he wear a walrus costume. He then invited his listeners to vote on whether or not they’d like him to make it into a movie. Well of course they’re going to vote yes, they’re his fans. It speaks volumes that this is how Smith is going about getting ideas for movies now.
As podcasting is what Smith has on the brain, he makes his lead character a podcaster called Wallace (Justin Long), presumably named as it sounds a bit like walrus. He runs a popular show called The Not-See Party (hardy-ha-ha) where he and his co-host Teddy (Haley Joel Osment) mock internet celebrities. The name derives from the fact that while Wallace always ventures off to interview people in person, Teddy stays behind to have events later described to him. I really can’t tell if it’s some meta-commentary by Smith or just him being incredibly un-self-aware that Wallace, who on paper sounds like something of a stand-in for Smith, is such an obnoxious arsehole.
His latest assignment is heading to Manitoba to interview the subject behind a viral video called ‘The Kill Bill kid’, so named as he accidently cuts his own leg off with a sword in said video. We are shown the video at the start of the film, and the special effects are so bad that I was convinced it would be revealed to be a fake upon Wallace’s arrival. No, in fact it was supposed to be real, as Wallace learns that the kid later killed himself out of shame. Stuck in Canada with no interview, Wallace looks around for an alternate subject and stumbles into notice from a retired seaman offering a free room in exchange for hearing stories.
Tusk’s plot in is many ways quite similar to Smith’s last film Red State, where a gullible moron follows a notice promising one thing only to wind up in a much more unfortunate situation, and like that film the antagonist, and highlight is Michael Parks. As Howard Howe, Parks delivers a number of speeches about his old seafaring days that are at times captivating. On occasion it seems that Parks is too good for a movie like this, and maybe Smith knows it too as he often lets these yarns go on for a bit too long, while Wallace listens on unconvincingly drinking tea.
For a horror-comedy, the best moments in Tusk are actually these dramatic ones. The more we learn about Howe, the more sinister he becomes and his unhealthy obsessions with Walruses, and turning his captive into one, are revealed. To be fair, when we first see his grotesque creation ‘Mr. Tusk’, it’s a decent scare, as is when he first tries to swim, but unfortunately the more we see of the creature, the more ridiculous it becomes.
Tusk also has one almost inexplicable appearance come its second half. Worrying about him, Wallace’s co-host and girlfriend (Génesis Rodríguez) contact the local police and are eventually put in touch with an alcoholic ex-cop named Guy Lapointe who’s been hunting Howe for years. Lapointe is played by none other than Johnny Depp. Considering what a joke Depp has become in the mainstream now, taking a small role in a low-budget independent movie sounds like it might be a good idea for him. However, he’s just doing the same thing he usually does nowadays, appearing in a stupid hat, buried under make-up and adopting a ridiculous accent (supposedly French-Canadian). It initially looks like this will be a one-scene cameo but Depp practically becomes the lead from this point on. It’s honestly the worst performance I’ve ever seen from Depp, and I’d be interested to know what actual French-Canadians make of it. Come to think of it, I’d be interested to know what Canadians make of this movie as a whole, as it appears to be cheaply mocking them whenever it can. In one part his investigation, Lapointe questions two convenience store clerks who encountered Wallace earlier. As they remember him, Smith replays the entire scene from before, it’s a complete waste of time.
Tusk does manage to get in one decent twist regarding Howe’s motivation towards the end but by the time it reaches its conclusion, any of its earlier good ideas have been buried beneath the absurdity onscreen. Then in its final moments it appears Smith wants to take Tusk’s premise seriously again. He ends it on a melancholic note, just before launching into the aforementioned podcast audio, informing us that this whole movie was essentially a big joke. If it is all just a joke, it sure as hell isn’t an amusing one.