Let me begin this review by stating that I am not a Kevin Smith hater by any means. Quite the opposite actually, I grew up on his films. He is one of the reasons I wanted to study film and screenwriting. At one point I even got to see him live at a recording for his podcast Jay and Silent Bob Get Old, where I asked him some questions with a shaky voice and legs made of Jello-o. He and his films have meant a lot to me and who I grew up to be. All that being said, Tusk more than just let me down, it made me angry. I saw the film opening day and it’s taken me time to come to terms with it, but I think I’m finally ready to talk about it.
Now on to the actual film itself, this is where it gets spoiler-y, to avoid spoilers and my epic justice driven rant, skip to the last paragraph. Without divulging too much of the plot, it centers around a jaded podcast host Wallace Bryton (Justin Long) going on a trip for his podcast to Canada to interview a boy who accidentally cuts his leg off. He gets there, and the kid has killed himself. Desperate for a story, he looks around for something interesting. While at a local bar he happens across a letter posted on a bulletin board by a man claiming to have lived “a long and storied life” and he is looking to share his stories. Wallace bites and goes to get this once in a lifetime story. He meets Howard Howe (Michael Parks), arguably the best part of the film. Howard indulges in his history and Wallace is flabbergasted by the amazing stories Howard tells. The final story he tells is of a time that he was sailing the sea and meets a walrus that befriends him after becoming shipwrecked. It’s then that Howard drugs Wallace and the bulk of the film and transformation begins. I’ll leave it at that, as the rest of the film deals primarily with the transformation itself. There is a secondary story involving his podcast co-host Teddy Craft (Haley Joel Osment) and his estranged girlfriend Ally Leon (Genesis Rodriguez) as they reveal that Ally has been getting revenge on her boyfriend for cheating on her, by cheating on him with Teddy; then realizing that Wallace is in danger and attempting to find him in the great white north.
So, let’s start with the pros of this film, being that this part will be the briefest portion of the review. I could start this by saying that two of the best parts about this film are that it featured a trailer for the upcoming Alejandro González Iñárritu film, Birdman, that I hadn’t seen yet. Very excited about that. The other good thing that came from it, and this can be contested, is that the revenue from this film has gone on to fully finance Clerks 3. The actual film however had less merit. The best parts where as I stated before, Michael Park’s performance. He is really the shining nugget of gold in this film, his performance is haunting, going from beautiful poetry laden prose to ravaging nonsensical rambling the next. He really captures the picture of a man who has, however so elegantly, lost his god damned mind. In fact, the whole film really begins to realize its self after Long’s character meets Park’s. The dialogue between the two is a great juxtaposition of Smith’s unique, quirky and crude dialogue against the calm, eerie, wisdom-filled voice of Park’s character. There are a couple of scenes in this segment that really stuck with me as horrifying. One being when Park’s character informs Long’s that he had been bitten by Brown Recluse, moments later Long realizing that he has had his leg amputated. The sobering reaction Long’s character has to this gruesome realization combined with Park’s eerie calm and commanding demeanor sent shivers down my spine. Another being when Long realizes that he hasn’t been bitten, and that he is being held against his will. Park again dominates this scene with his insanity as he tries to convince Long’s character it was a spider, before singing a playful “Itsy Bitsy Spider” song. He really wows the audience with his most savage, pure interpretation of insanity. Before we go on let me say, I truly admire the fact that Kevin Smith stuck it to the man by making such a small film and actually getting it released in theaters. His production soup to nuts, that’s a hard thing to do in this day and age. Now on to the cons.
Wow, this is going to be long. In the beginning I was worried, because it starts off with a really shaky premise. These two shlubs have a wildly popular podcast called The Not-See Party (hilarity ensues), it’s called this because Long’s character goes to interview people far away and then explains the story to Osment’s character on the podcast, because Osment can NOT SEE it for himself. Get it? It’s because of the German hate party, but it’s really a pun. The joke is spread about as thick as my last sentence. It’s awkward and really just not that funny. This brings me to my next point: this film has a hard time finding it’s purpose. It starts off as a joke, flat-out. It doesn’t try to hide it at all, but further down the road it tries to impose this moral overtone, like we should really care about what is happening to this poor soul. Only, you hate him, he is a giant asshole with little to no redeeming qualities. This leads you to believe it’s becoming an even bigger joke, but leaves you at the end with this morose feeling that “Hey, maybe they actually wanted me to care about the guy” which just makes you confused and leave you a bit uncomfortable, not the good “oh, I feel like a bad person” kind of uncomfortable, but the “this guy is talking way too close to me” uncomfortable. It was lost, it wasn’t sure if this was a sentimental piece or a drawn out joke.
On the topic of uncomfortable, lets talk about Johnny Depp’s performance. I thought the first ten minutes of his character were absolutely great, he plays a strange, somewhat looney French-Canadian private detective who has been working on Park’s case for a long time and is hired to help find Long. It’s goofy and over the top, but it actually works, at first. Then after a while it becomes a case of Smith having a great actor and wanting to capitalize on that by giving him plenty of screen time. There is one of the most groan worthy scenes, just inserted carelessly into this film about a time when Guy Lapointe (Depp) meets Park’s while looking for the serial killer that he has been searching for. The scene does it’s job in about 3 minutes, but clocks in at about 15 minutes of screen time. This is literally here so Depp can work with Park, someone who Depp admires. It’s outrageous, and seem very amateur of Smith, which upsets me greatly.
Finally, let’s talk about the actual walrus. I think one of the best things this film COULD have done, would have been to leave it to our imagination. Don’t show us a completed walrus, because the build up is so much more fertile for film goers than what was actually revealed. The build up is released with about thirty minutes left of the film and it is an utterly disappointing reveal at that. The costume is goofy, absolutely comical and just looks like shit. It dashes any levity the remaining half hour tries to build. It is a metaphor for the entirety of the film. Such a huge let down, it even soils Park’s performance as, at one point in the film, he literally fights the human walrus in his own makeshift costume, to give him a right of passage as a walrus. I know it’s as stupid on film as it is when I explain it. I can’t even express how much this ridiculous costume trivialized the entire film, it is the reason I wanted to walk out of the theater. It made me check my phone to see if it was almost time to go home. It was bad, really bad.
This film was a disappointment on a grand scale. With all the buzz and hype over this film I was really expecting a unique and entertaining romp in the horror genre, but all I got was this shitty walrus film. I feel like writing this is blasphemy but I have to let it out. Tusk made me doubt Kevin Smith, for the first time in my life. If you are a Smith fan, wait until you can rent it and check it out if you absolutely must. If you aren’t a Smith fan, or just don’t really care about Smith, I advise you to stay away from this film, but if you must watch it, don’t say I didn’t warn you. In all seriousness, I have a feeling this will become a cult classic, so catch it while it’s hot, but realize, you are watching a film about a guy getting turned into a walrus.