Movie Review – Tusk

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Tusk (2014)
Written & Directed by Kevin Smith

tusk film

Wallace Bryton is a cruel man. He co-hosts a podcast, The Not-See Party where he and his partner Teddy mock whatever viral videos are currently fresh in the collective psyche. His most recent acquisition, The Kill Bill Kid (an allusion to The Star Wars Kid) brings him to Manitoba in search of an interview. That opportunity goes bust, and he scrambles for a replacement, a touch of the strange to return to his listeners. A posting in the men’s room at a bar leads Wallace to the large manor home of Howard Howe, a reclusive man with stories to tell. Howe was a sailor for many years who regales Wallace with meeting Hemingway days before D-Day and his own eventually shipwreck in the waters of the North Atlantic. It was in those waters he befriended a walrus, nicknaming him Mr. Tusk. This friendship is the motivation behind Howe’s twisted plans for Wallace.

Tusk is a god-awful movie. I suspect this is how it came into existence: Kevin Smith and friends had just seen The Human Centipede and, possibly aided by weed, started to joke about what other animals a mad scientist might turn an unsuspecting visitor into. The idea borne from this brain trust was really only about enough to warrant a short film, so work was done to pad out the material with entirely unnecessary and tonally jarring filler. This is how we ended up with a piece of garbage like Tusk.

It’s not all terrible, though. Michael Parks in the role of Howard Howe is about the only redeemable element though. Parks is a remarkable actor who is able to take material that is way beneath him and elevate it into something captivating. The backstory of Howe and Parks’ choices are very compelling and make for great content for a b-horror film. He finds those moments of pathos but then has no problems ratcheting up the maniacal nature of his character with a disturbingly timed laugh or mocking tears towards his victim. If the movie were merely happy with telling the story of Howe and Wallace we might have had something subtly unnerving. But that wouldn’t be a Kevin Smith movie.

So much of Tusk is added filler to hit a feature film runtime. There is the subplot involving Wallace’s infidelity and the straining of his relationship with girlfriend, Ally. Then there is the whole subplot with his podcast co-host Teddy. Add in stunt cast scenes with Harley Morenstein (Epic Meal Time), Harley Quinn Smith and Lily-Rose Depp as a teenage convenience store employees, and the worst offense Johnny Depp as Quebecois detective Guy LaPointe. Every single one of these things takes any tension that might have been built in the narrative and by Michael Parks’ and just shreds it to pieces.

Kevin Smith is a director who, when I was a young undeveloped mind, created work I enjoyed. During college, I remember us eagerly rushing out to see Dogma and Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back in theaters. But at some point, I discovered a more extensive range of cinema and learned about more sophisticated forms of storytelling in film and Smith’s work just felt sloppy. Smith hasn’t seemed to mature much as a filmmaker, and that is sort of his schtick. He’s now a near fifty-year-old man still making silly stoner movies. There is nothing wrong with that if Smith wants to just own it. But with this movie and Red State, he is trying to position himself as a being reinvented, a more serious filmmaker. It’s just not true. Tusk didn’t have to be this bad, but because he failed to restrain himself in moments where it could have aided the film we end up with this mess.

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