Cast: Justin Long, Michael Parks, Genesis Rodriguez, Haley Joel Osment
Director: Kevin Smith
Running Time: 1 hour 42 minutes
by Jericho Cerrona
Tusk, the latest one-gag experiment from writer-director Kevin Smith, is more than simply a bad movie. It's badness extends not only to how ineptly made and tonally muddled it is, but also to Smith's awareness of it's badness. What generated as a self-aware joke on his popular podcast has ballooned into a pointless stab at a midnight cult movie; an enterprise so in love with it's own ludicrousness that it feels like an assault on the audience's goodwill, something that must be earned, no matter how rabid your fanbase. What's most clear throughout Tusk's interminable 1 hr. 42 minute running time is that Smith is more in love with his own absurd premise than anything resembling making a coherent film. Ultimately, it's the audience that suffers most, and that's saying a lot in a film where a character is disembodied, sliced up, and modified in truly bizarre fashion.
The fact that Smith still has a rabid fanbase and that he continues making films that will appeal only to himself and his pals is rather dispiriting, especially at a time when so many indie filmmakers are struggling to get their well-meaning projects off the ground. For Tusk to work, there must be a sense of tonal consistency, that a premise so silly could, in some demented way, actually happen. But Smith overextends his abilities here by assuming that his mixture of low-brow Jack-Ass style humor, labored Canada puns, and gross-out body horror visuals will work apart from anything of substance holding them together. Anyone can make a weird, nonsensical movie out of spare parts, but it takes real talent to translate such a stupid idea to the screen, and Smith, whose talents have always lied in the writing, proves himself an eager whipping boy.
The plot follows an obnoxious podcaster named Wallace (Justin Long), who, at the behest of his best friend and fellow podcaster Teddy (Haley Joel Osment), is sent to rural Canada in order to interview a viral sensation that the two have viciously mocked on their show, unfunnily titled "The Not-See Party." Forced digs at Canadian lifestyle choices and goofy mustaches follow, with Long doing a very grating interpretation of Smith himself (see, he's being self-deprecating, it's funny!). There's also a long-suffering girlfriend (Genesis Rodriguez) who questions Wallace's fidelity, and an absolutely embarrassing extended cameo from a famous star who shows up halfway through. Mostly, the film centers on a meeting between the idiotic podcaster and an older man named Howard Howe (Michael Parks), who beguiles with strange tales of war and maritime mammals. Parks, who also played a crazy pastor in Smith's last film, Red State, turns up the looney dial to 11 here, delivering a deliciously unhinged performance as a man harboring warm feelings for a long-lost Walrus. He's the best thing about the film; it's just too bad that his character is such a cartoon villain that all of his head-scratching behavior never registers as even remotely frightening. After long stretches of mostly inane, rambling dialogue between Wallace and Howard, the film takes a turn for the grotesque when the old coot starts experimenting with body modifications (think The Human Centipede), before spinning off into a wildly unfunny subplot involving a bumbling detective, clearly inspired by Peter Sellers' Inspector Clouseau character, searching for Wallace with the help of Rodriguez's panicked girlfriend and Osment's frazzled best pal. The scenes with the celebrity cameo are more than just winking claptrap; they are an inexcusably lazy excuse to allow this particular performer to run rampant over the latter half of the film, just when the body horror elements should be reaching a fever pitch.
It's been well documented that Smith came up with the idea for Tusk under the influence of marijuana, and perhaps taking a few well-placed bong rips before watching this mess would help, but this is one of those instances where a joke amongst stoned friends should have stayed there. It's not witty or clever enough to be gel as a comedy and not scary or creepy enough to qualify as an entertaining horror flick. Instead, it lands somewhere in between a lark and a winking in-joke, banking on it's WTF sensibility to carry it all the way through until it's baffling, hilariously stupid climax. Never before has a Fleetwood Mac song been used so offensively.