Kevin Smith’s new body horror film Tusk was one of my most anticipated movies of 2014. And despite the fact that I am not giving this film a passing grade, I can’t say that I’m disappointed. Tusk instead exemplifies the purpose of a 2 and a ½ star rating. Half of the movie was the exciting, strange ride that it was advertised to be and the other half was a forced, unfunny waste of time.
Wallace (played by Goo-Goo-Goo-Justin Long) is a famous podcaster who is known for interviewing weird people from around the world. While in Canada, he stumbles upon an eccentric, old man named Howard (Michael Parks) who kidnaps him and devises a scheme to surgically and psychologically turn Wallace into a Walrus. Meanwhile, his girlfriend (Genesis Rodriguez) and podcasting buddy (Haley Joel Osment) turn to a French Canadian detective Guy Lapointe (Johnny Depp) to help them find Wallace.
Let me get this out of the way, Tusk is horribly written movie. This movie might very well feature one of the worst screenplays I’ve seen all year. Aside from the admittedly huge laughs that come from Michael Parks amazing performance and the sheer WTF-ness of what is happening on screen, the actual humor that the movie attempts is shockingly awful. I can’t even fathom how Kevin Smith thought some of these jokes were funny that he put in here. There are two types of comedy that Smith tries here, there is either awkward, inane and painfully unfunny conversations that go on for too long or there are blunt, juvenile fart and sex jokes that could be written by a 1st grader. There is one scene in this movie between the detective and Howard that goes on for 6 minutes and it is so made up on the spot and so pathetic in its attempts to be funny that I can only describe it as torture.
I could let the horrible amount of humor pass with a still positive grade though. After all, we are watching a movie where a man gets turned into a walrus; this isn’t going to be Kurosawa. If this movie stuck to its premise and remained an efficient, midnight horror movie throughout, a lot of problems I have with plot and comedy would be in some way redeemed. Alas, the movies biggest error is one that Kevin Smith himself predicted. I don’t listen to his podcast but I did listen to parts of the 30 minute segment where he and his friend came up with the idea for the movie. In this discussion that they do, Smith talks about how he wants to make a horror movie that doesn’t follow the standard horror cliché of cutting to friends and family looking for the main character. I can sympathize with this as this can bring the storyline to a complete halt and destroy momentum. That is why it makes much more saddening that that is the hugest problem with Tusk.
Every time you get caught up in what is happening to Wallace and you begin to go along with the ride, they cut to overlong, dry scenes of his girlfriend and his buddy searching for him. And if they’re not handling that, they’ll cut to a flashback that’s supposed to add an oh so “profound” message about how fame destroys people. You have so many options for such an amazing and original storyline and I can’t believe they chose to fill half of it with Lifetime Channel bad storytelling. This might come as a shock to some people, but no, you’re over the top, B movie is not missing a forced, melodramatic theme about how are main character is selling out and how him getting turned into a walrus is a metaphor for who he has become. You also don’t have to have a cheesy, unfunny detective character that is only made more intolerable by the obnoxious, secretive famous actor who they got to play the part in a performance so bad that it felt like he was speaking down to the audience. There is no shame in just making a send up to midnight movies Kevin Smith, that’s good enough; you don’t need this entire metaphorical, grounded, zany BS that’s going on besides that. Frankly, I think the actual, main storyline is so good that it actually makes it worse watching these moments and it makes you that much more annoyed every time they cut back to this. By the way, the ending to the movie is an oddly heavy handed moment that’s supposed to feel meaningful and deep but instead ends up feeling shoehorned in at the last second. Kevin Smith’s inept writing made parts of Tusk sincerely uncomfortable to watch.
I have just given a lot of crap to this movie but that is only because of how good the other side of the coin is. Whenever Tusk focuses on the story that people paid money to watch, the film soars to say the least. If you want to see this movie because you want to watch a piece of over the top, midnight horror where a crazy old dude turns a guy into a walrus, you will still get that part.
I should probably discuss the performances of Justin Long and Michael Parks. Though there characters aren’t the best written, both of them give it everything they have and they sell every line. Justin does a good job portraying a sort of moronic, self-centered scumbag and how that kind of person would react in this sort of situation. And even though Kevin Smith’s one sided, jab at fame is clear, Long still gives his character some sort of interesting, sympathetic personality where you can at least see where he’s coming from even when he’s being a buffoon. I also have a ton of respect for some of the stuff he does near the end of the movie.
Of course, it is Michael Parks who steals this entire movie. Without him, I doubt I would even be giving this movie 2 stars. He plays the antagonist Howard with a force that can only be described as pure excitement. Parks has been given a character that you can really get into and he thrives on the madness of the premise every minute he’s on screen. Ranging from funny to sad to terrifying and sometimes all at once, you will be on the edge of your seat every minute he is on screen because he adds such a level of intensity to the role that you really can’t wait to see what he does next. Howard’s larger than life persona brings out the concept at its best.
Regardless of bad writing, the transformation that happens is fascinating and blood-pumping to watch. Due to two great performances, the oddity and uniqueness of what is happening and impressive, thrilling make up effects, the movie finds a way to deliver on the pulpy entertainment that you want it to be. I don’t want to spoil everything for you but there is an absolutely brilliant fight scene near the end that has to be seen to be believed, it is glorious. I would be overjoyed to see the movie receive an out of nowhere Oscar nomination for its make up effects like Bad Grandpa the year before but you know that’s probably not going to be something the Academy voters go for even in comparison to a Jackass movie. Besides what I’ve already said, the cinematography is good, the production design is really unsettling and Kevin Smith has admirably improved as a director since his black and white, shot on video indie Clerks. If you could find a way to cut out the dead weight and just have the main storyline, I would be more than happy to recommend this to people.
I said it at the start of the review and I’ll say it again, half of the movie is great and half of the movie is terrible. Half of the movie was intolerable, unfunny and pretentious and the other half was invigorating, daring and fun. Tusk is a movie that you should watch because it has a lot of fun moments, but be prepared for the useless filler that comes along with it.
Release Date: 4/4/2014
Cast: Justin Long, Michael Parks, Haley Joel Osment, Genesis Rodriguez and Johnny Depp
Directed by: Kevin Smith
Screenplay by: Kevin Smith