Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 42 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for some Disturbing Violence/Gore, Language and Sexual Content
Directed by: Kevin Smith
Written by: Kevin Smith
Starring: Justin Long, Michael Parks, Genesis Rodriguez, Haley Joel Osment & Johnny Depp
TUSK was created in a wholly unusual way. On SModcast episode 259, Kevin Smith and his co-host were discussing a strange ad that eventually morphed into a story involving a madman and a walrus suit. At the end of the episode, Smith issued a call to arms for his fans and asked them to vote on Twitter through hashtags if he should make a feature based on the story. A majority of his fans answered #WalrusYes and about a year later, TUSK is upon us! How does the film stack up as a whole though? I really loved RED STATE and thought it was Kevin’s best film to date with powerful punch being thrown at certain issues, but also maintained an interesting story. TUSK never bored me and there will be people who absolutely dig this film, but I kind of hated it for many reasons.
Wallace is an irreverent podcaster making his living on exploiting strange people on his episodes. Arriving at Canada for an interview that quickly goes south, this moustached podcast host finds a weird ad posted in a bathroom. This piece of paper offers a free room and plenty of stories for menial household duties. Wallace takes immediate interest and travels to the middle of nowhere to interview this reclusive old man. Turns out that the poster of the ad has a more sinister agenda in mind and wants to turn Wallace into a walrus. Needless to say that circumstances are dire. Wallace’s friends desperately search for him with the help of a quirky French-Canadian detective.
There’s probably a really solid film within TUSK, but the main narrative complaint I have is the film sporadically throws flashbacks at the viewer every 10 minutes or so. Some of these have a purpose and others are a complete waste of time. However, it lends to the underling sense that Kevin Smith was making this screenplay up as he went along. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out this was the rough draft of the story, because it needs some fine-tuning. Things might have improved greatly if Smith also showed everything in chronological order. Flashbacks with Wallace (including a forced one in the final minutes) would have worked better if they were in the opening act. Therefore, references to them in the end of the movie would have actual staying power, instead of being almost instantly forgotten in the matter of an hour or so.
Scenes being placed where they chronologically belong (in the opening act), could have possibly benefitted making the characters likable. Wallace comes off as the biggest asshole in the world, but Kevin Smith attempts to get the viewer to feel a bit of sympathy for him. However, he does this by placing a few random flashbacks (damn the weird order of scenes in this movie and my continued harping on it) right by the moment we’re supposed to feel bad for Wallace’s horrible predicament. It’s a technique that feels overly manipulative and could have been easily corrected. Haley Joel Osment and Genesis Rodriguez aren’t given a whole hell of a lot to do here. Also (if you don’t know about the movie’s worst kept secret cameo then SPOILER), Johnny Depp’s presence was wholly unnecessary and merely amounted to him doing his funny face shtick (ala Jack Sparrow, Mad Hatter, Tonto, etc.). One extended scene between him and Michael Parks was painfully bad. None of the jokes really work in this movie.
Most of the payoff hinges on the inevitable appearance of the Wallace walrus (seen frequently after about 45 minutes in or so), but the reveal doesn’t satisfy either. I felt the look was too comical and silly, also unlike any of the freaky medical drawings glimpsed early on. The conclusion is stupid enough to work in such a ridiculous story, but Smith botches it in a rushed and frenetic execution. However, not everything about TUSK is awful. Michael Parks (the best actor in RED STATE) is clearly having a blast as the utterly insane Howard Howe. I loved most of his delivery, except for that aforementioned scene with Depp. Also, the setting of the Howard’s isolated house is appropriately creepy and offers decent suspense in his first encounter with Wallace.
The difficult thing about making an intentionally cheesy or campy film is that if the filmmaker is winking too much at the audience then the joke becomes less funny. TRICK ‘R TREAT and CABIN IN THE WOODS balanced an equal amount of silly humor with a straight-faced delivery, therefore making the story work. TUSK feels like Kevin Smith is making it up on the spot and constantly grinning at the camera. The sporadic flashbacks feel like they were added in on the spot during the writing process of the first draft and putting these in the chronological order would have gotten me to enjoy it far more than I did. TUSK feels sloppy, forced, and unfocused in many areas. There are a few redeeming factors (the setting, a kernel of a really creative story, and Michael Parks going wild), but I left the film disappointed.