Forced imprisonment, mutilation, mutation; Tusk is the monster stitched out of a horrific premise and Kevin Smith's brand of downright silliness. Wallace Bryton (Justin Long) is a successful podcaster making waves online by finding the latest viral sensations and interviewing (or perhaps more aptly exploiting them) for clicks. When his latest interviewee falls through and his trip to Canada looks to be wasted he finds a peculiar advertisement that leads him into the snare of Howard Howe (Michael Parks).
While the critical chorus seems to have settled into heckling Smith with a "how did this get made," I'll stay on the island and praise him for the downright audacity to pursue an idea born out of what was essentially a comedic brainstorm session. If you're a fan, you've heard this dark story as it crawled out of the THC infused haze of a SModcast (his podcast with long-time producer Scott Mosier). If you're not, during a podcast titled "The Walrus and the Carpenter" Smith and Mosier made hilarious fun of a Gumtree advertisement (later found to be a hoax) of a man offering applicants a place to stay if they’d dress as a walrus. From that comedy Smith then goaded his followers on twitter into a hashtag campaign; #WalrusYes or #WalrusNo? The overwhelming affirmative started the journey.
This present phase of Kevin Smith's career is his most experimental and exciting. In the wake of the outstanding Red State there's an unpredictability in his current body of work that has this reviewer loving not knowing what he's going to do next.
Long’s Wallace is Smith’s most loathsome protagonist yet. Smith writes Wallace as a minor internet celebrity, who has attained a modicum of success and yet doesn’t care who he has to hurt to maintain it. He’s the entitled millennial, and Long nails the cynicism, narcissism and downright smarminess. There’s almost a desire to see what horrors are about to befall him.
Listening to Michael Parks wrangle with Kevin Smith dialogue is an intoxicating experience. After his sublime turn as the crazed pastor Abin Cooper in Red State, one could not help but be thrilled for their continuing collaboration. The erudite and worldly Howard Howe has a hypnotic and mellifluous façade; shrouding outrageous madness. Despite how ridiculous the manifestations of Howe’s psychopathy eventually become, he’s able to continually ground this near iconic villain to its evil core. He's not in on the joke and that's what makes the character work.
Genisis Rodriguez's Ally gets to share the soliloquising spotlight with Parks to deliver a truly heart and fourth wall breaking account of just how much of a deplorable shit Wallace is. The all grown up Haley Joel Osment plays Wallace's podcasting partner Teddy joins Ally in the real world to search for Wallace once he disappears in the Canadian wilderness.
In the opening half of the story that Smith and his player’s shine. The darker the content, the more conflicting the characters become and the sheer horror of being drawn into this terrible situation. This is offset by humour in the form of Wallace's overt (and oblivious) tactlessness and a cavalcade of cameos from people such Ralph Garman (co host of Smith's other gargantuan podcast HOLLYWOOD BABBLE-ON) or Smith's daughter as a convenience store clerk.
It the second half of the story though, as his creation stares the audience in the face and the character’s destiny manifests you can’t help but feel the presence of a comedic mind grinning cheekily for his director’s chair and whisper to his crew; "ain’t that fucked up?!?” It devolves quickly and Smith’s game is manipulating the audience. Tusk feels like that absolutely heinous thing that you laughed at outrageously because it seemed so unexpected. When you feel as if you should be freaking right out, you’re cackling at Smith’s use of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Tusk’ or an unrecognisable Johnny Depp cameo so far out of left field that you’re sure that it has to be some kind of parody. Smith almost wants to set up a villain as formidable as Hannibal Lector (both Mads not Tony) or Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) and to have him being pursued solely by a Canadian equivalent of Inspector Clouseau (Peter Sellers’ bumbling detective).
Tusk had flashes of the brilliance, but I yearned for it to be gripped by the darkness it touched; instead being compelled to giggle at our final destination.
[rating=3] and a half
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: Kevin Smith
Written by: Kevin Smith
Starring: Michael Parks, Justin Long, Genesis Rodriguez, Haley Joel Osment, Johnny Depp, Ralph Garman, Jennifer Schwalbach Smith, Harley Quinn Smith, Lily-Rose Melody Depp
Michael Parks ... Howard Howe
Justin Long ... Wallace Bryton
Genesis Rodriguez ... Ally Leon
Haley Joel Osment ... Teddy Craft
Johnny Depp ... Guy Lapointe (as Guy Lapointe)
Ralph Garman ... Frank Garmin
Jennifer Schwalbach Smith ... Gimli Slider Waitress
Harley Quinn Smith ... Girl Clerk #1
Lily-Rose Melody Depp ... Girl Clerk #2