Overview: To everyone who thinks only vapid big budget movies are ruining modern cinema: I give you, Tusk. Smodcast Productions; 2014; Rated R; 102 minutes
Walrus No: For such an insane concept, Tusk comes across as lazy and surprisingly tame. The design of the human-walrus hybrid itself is disgusting (A friend of mine felt ill after the excruciating experience), but there’s no passion behind it. Director Kevin Smith douses the walrus in a bright shining stage, attempting to show off the monstrosity as something to be proud of. It’s a Frankenstein’s monster type of assembly of human body parts, meant to make the audience pull back in horror. But every great horror movie has a purpose and Tusk is as aimless as it gets. It’s an empty husk of a movie designed to titillate the wildest, pot-induced fantasies by once renowned indie geek, Kevin Smith.
I should divulge some of my history with Kevin Smith films: I’m not a big fan. There’s something oddly charming about the Clerk films that gets me to like their simplicity and their by-the-bootstrap genesis story. Smith’s typical dialogue isn’t great but good enough to carry genuinely funny conversations, even when the movies get bogged down in dick jokes. Dogma was the first Kevin Smith movie I ever watched and fell in love with it. I haven’t gone back to visit these movies in some time but I really should, if only to wash out the taste of one of the year’s biggest misfires. Everything else he’s done falls on a range from meandering stupidity to decent. I’ve only missed Mallrats and Red State from Smith’s filmography and after Tusk, I have no intention of visiting them. That being said, I admire Smith’s ability to make movies that he, and only he, would want to make. There’s something special about that. But “special” doesn’t always mean “good.”
Kevin Smith Loves Kevin Smith: The conception of Tusk was heavily promoted on Kevin Smith’s podcast, aptly titled Smodcast. Why do you need to know that? Because it’s an inside joke. You might find more enjoyment than I did if you’re a regular listener to Smodcast, finding moments of “Hey! I remember that!” where I instead felt “Why is this happening?”
There’s no context to anything happening in the movie. Smith fancies long exchanges of dialogue between characters but not for the sake of character. They will ramble between moments of backstory explaining Howard Howe’s fascination of Walruses (Michael Parks is truly the bright spot of the film), while Wallace Bryton makes dick jokes (I’ve never understood the apathy towards Long until this day). I wasn’t wanting to leave the theater until Johnny Depp appeared as Guy Lapointe. Depp dialed the Jack Sparrow to 11. The character of Guy Lapointe is actually an interesting vessel. The manner of how he solves mysteries is ripe for exploration but Depp is t00 busy attempting to Out-Depp himself. The most egregious scene of the film involves a flashback to Depp’s Lapointe meeting Howard Howe for the first time. A scene so excruciatingly bad, the five of us scattered about in the theater looked at each other and asked “What the fuck just happened?” And some of those guys even liked the movie! You can imagine how shocked I was to discover Smith served as his own editor.
If aimlessness was the point of the movie, Smith might have been able to say something profoundly disturbing here. But why do that when he can indulge his own sensibilities? The early buzz from TIFF had me interested. The idea and trailer had me hooked. The execution left me disappointed.
Final Thoughts: To paraphrase Dr. Ian Malcolm from Jurassic Park: “You spent so much time asking yourself if you could, you never stopped to ask if you should.” You really shouldn’t have.