Kevin Smith saunters back behind the camera for faux-horror dramedy, “Tusk.”
Conceived from a seemingly cannabis induced colloquy between writer/director Kevin Smith and long-time production comrade Scott Mosier on their weekly SModacast, the story of “Tusk” errantly clambers it’s way through a cloyingly windy script. The story follows an impetuous and unashamed mustached podcaster who travels to the rural interlake region of Canada for an off-beat interview only to find himself entangled in the sadistic plot of an oddly eccentric old seafarer.
When coupling the brilliantly capable acting talents of Justin Long, Haley Joel Osment, Johnny Depp, Michael Parks and relative newcomer Genesis Rodriguez with the respected vision and penmanship of veteran writer and director Kevin Smith, the expectations going into this movie may have been set unreasonably high.
With Kevin Smith’s last two films, “Red State” in 2011 and “Cop Out” in 2010, failing both critically as well as at the box-office, I know that I was not the only rabid fan hoping for the best possible outcome with “Tusk.” As time trudges on, Smith’s classic 90’s gems like “Clerks,” “Mallrats,” “Chasing Amy” and “Dogma” are increasingly overlooked by the new generation of movie goers, as the Hollywood machine continually churns out fresh products for the masses. After Smith’s timeless collection of 90’s films, I’ll even throw in “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” even though it was released in 2001, all we are left with is “Jersey Girl,” “Clerks II,” “Zach and Miri Make a Porno,” “Cop Out” and “Red State.” If observed only from the perspective of the post 90’s generation of movie goers, Smith’s clout when it comes to filming looks to have been almost critically eroded.
Given the birthplace of it’s concept, the movie aptly starts off with the mustached main character Wallace Bryton (Long) and his best friend Teddy Craft (Osment) amidst their weekly podcast, charmingly entitled “the Not See Party.” The unrelenting and heartlessly belittling bite of Bryton’s cringe comedy rants, teasingly left me with the impression that the film would include a social commentary on the increasingly desensitized and unapologetic interactions born from the burgeoning internet age. Although not entirely terrible, what I actually got from the film was starkly different and jarringly unexpected. For a lack of better words, it was intentionally campy and emotionally exaggerated.
I would have enjoyed seeing Smith weave something akin to the do unto others as you would have done unto you theme into the movie, which would potentially have made for a more fulfilling ending, but he chooses to abandons all reason, not entirely unsuccessfully, for the sake of a sick-minded spectacle. I was happy to see Osment back on the big screen, but was hoping to see more of his character in terms of development versus his tertiary interjections. I think there could have been a lot more development between the girlfriend and best friend story arc. I think it would have made for a more smoothly believable transition for the audience.
The relationship between Long and Park’s characters is alluring at first, but quickly regresses into a bland and inevitably futile routine. For what it was, the sheer absurdity of Long’s transformation was fascinating, but like an appetizer without a main course, it was ultimately unfulfilling on it’s own. Still, I enjoyed both Long and Park’s overall intensity and daringness to venture out into areas of down right weirdness. Of course, Johnny Depp brought a completely new and unique flavor of character to the film with Guy Lapointe. It was so unique that at times it seemed like I was concurently watching two different movies. He manages to maintain his scene stealing qualities despite his often overextend dialogue.
We also see some new faces with familiar names. The daughters of Depp and Smith, Lily-Rose Depp and Harley Quinn Smith, both have appropriately executed speaking roles as the unimpressed cellphone wielding Eh-2-ZED clerks. Clearly, talent must be hereditary.
I have to give the film it’s due in this area. As far as entertainment goes, I was completely floored by Smith’s goofily twisted humor. The Canada-isms and almost self aware cinematic recklessness made for an unprecedented movie experience. The dynamasism of the actors freely roaming through a lush landscape of emotion was enough to keep your attention long enough not be lulled by the bland simplicity of the story. I will be thrilled when somebody with too much time on their hands puts together a supercut of all Long’s post transformation scenes. Now that will be a “Tusk” I would be willing to watch more than once. If not for the story, this movie should surely be seen for the sheer spectacle. It’s like witnessing a peculiarly obscure back alley freak show, when you think you’ve gone to see the circus. “What” was the most common thought that ran through my head the entire time. [SPOILER ALERT] I can confidently say that Smith has done the best job when it comes to making a film about a guy who wants to turn another guy into a walrus.
I hate to say it, but Smith’s “Tusk” is pretty much a one and done. Once I saw the big reveal, there was very little substance left to keep me coming back. In comparison to his past successes, like “Dogma” and “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back,” “Tusk” visibly lacks the finesse we are accustomed to seeing from Smith’s more polished films. The simple story is adequate the first time around, but thats about it.
- Entertainment Value
It is what it is. “Tusk” was billed as weird and weird is what it was. There was not much to the story to really extrapolate any greater meaning, nor was there any notable character development. Overall, the film came across a bit choppy and unpolished, but the spectacle at times prevailed. I can't blame the actors on this one as they really stepped up to the plate but, in terms of potential for character development, they did not really have anywhere to go. The dialogue was tediously longwinded to the point that, although the acting and camera work was visually pleasing, the sluggish pace of the film made me wish for an abrupt ending. Individually, the movie had a lot of interesting scenes, it was just the overall presentation and reckless ambiguity that lost me. In conclusion, I would say that, all qualms aside, this is a movie you should definitely see once, if not only to be confounded by doing so. Either you will love to hate it, or end up hating loving it.