tusk

Tusk is a movie I like and would never recommend, which is actually par for the course when it comes to most of Kevin Smith’s creative output. For whom is his self-indulgent, weed-infused podcast for besides pre-existing Kevin Smith Fans, a collective regarded with even more disdain than Weezer Aficionados? (I belong to both groups by the way, which makes me super popular at parties.) There is no entry point for Kevin Smith; no easing-in to his oeuvre. If the self-actualised Clerks didn’t immediately speak to you, there ain’t no way you’re gonna find something of value further down the filmography. Not even in his late-career turn towards horror.

2011’s Red State, for all of its blood-letting, was still a pointed, talky, inelegant satire aimed at the religious right (see also: Dogma). Tusk – the insane, gory plot of which was inspired by a Gumtree hoax and riffed in its entirety through a haze of ganga on Smodcast – involves a bunch of people telling long-winded stories to one another. It’s new, but not new new. Still… I’m a fan. Not quite as misshapen as Red State, Tusk marries the emotional complexity of Smith’s epoch, Chasing Amy, as well as the visual of Justin Long getting sown into a walrus suit. Unique pleasure, thy name is Tusk.

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Long plays Wallace, a smug Yankee who travels to Manitoba and interviews Michael Parks’ retired sailor Howard Howe for his podcast. Looking for a good – and hopefully weird – anecdote, Howe regales him with a tale of shipwreck and his eventual befriending of a life-saving walrus named Mr. Tusk. Eventually wiped out by the drug-laced tea provided, Wallace awakens with a leg missing, Howard acting coy as to where exactly it went. The master plan is soon revealed though: Howe sure misses Mr. Tusk, and would just love it if Wallace would get inside this walrus-suit he’s made for him and pretend to be his old walrus buddy. It doesn’t matter if Wallace protests. The coming surgery will silence everything except animalistic howls anyway.

The motivations for Park’s character are never defined as being more than “he’s crazy” and “he’s Canadian,” yet the veteran character actor clearly relishes the part and carries so much of the film’s second half, when Long can no longer offer much in reply. The sting in Tusk’s tail, however, is the depiction of Wallace as a true bastard person. For once, a pop-culture-loving cipher for Smith is illustrated as entirely despicable, suggesting that a) maybe Wallace deserves what’s coming to him, and b) maybe he’s better off as a walrus. Is Smith suddenly self-immolating, rather than simply self-examining (or self-pleasuring)?

Johnny Depp is also in this as a French-Canadian man-hunter named Guy LaPointe. Actor and director obviously think their concoction is much more amusing than it really is. Same goes for the oft (too-oft!) repeated title of Wallace’s podcast, The Not-See Party. A shame. Tusk just isn’t really all that funny. But Long, Parks, and Genesis Rodriguez (as Wallace’s distressed girlfriend) deliver better performances than you usually get in this low-rent grindhouse fare, and when the flick goes full-walrus in the finale (the inevitable Fleetwood Mac’s anthem blaring over the speakers), even Smith haters would have to agree: Tusk gives you what you’ve never seen before. Problem is, for many, it’s something they never actually wanted to see.