Published on February 18th, 2015 | by Craig Silliphant0
Kevin Smith’s latest film Tusk is arguably not as bad as some critics felt, but on the other hand, it’s not exactly a masterpiece either.
I started watching Kevin Smith’s Tusk the other night and I had to turn it off within five minutes. I just couldn’t take the jokey portrayal of a Canadian border officer that Justin Long’s character encounters at the start of the film. It’s not that I can’t take a good Canuck joke — it’s just that this was painfully bad, which was weird, considering that Smith himself has some experience with Canada and Canadian properties like Degrassi High. The border officer is pure hoser, even getting mad at Long when he says he doesn’t follow hockey. I know Smith’s concept of Canadian humour doesn’t live and die with Bob and Doug MacKenzie, so this comes off as all the more insultingly lazy, not as a Canadian, but as a filmgoer.
Of course, I put my head down and tried again the next day, when I felt like my patience level would be higher. What I encountered was a wildly uneven movie that had ideas and executions both good and bad. I suppose this inconsistency isn’t surprising when you consider that this whole film was conceived around Smith and Scott Mosier riffing on their SModcast. Apparently, it’s also the start of a True North Trilogy, which means more lazy Canadian jokes are on the way from the guy who seems to be inexplicably glued into a hockey jersey. Does he wash that thing?
In Tusk, Justin Long and Haley Joel Osment play a couple of popular podcasters who mock the subjects of humiliating viral videos (their show is called The Not-See Party). When Long heads up to Canada to find ‘The Kill Bill Kid,’ who cut off his own leg with a sword, he finds that the unfortunate youth has committed suicide. However, Long finds a handbill from someone offering room and board and the guarantee of a lifetime of interesting stories, which piques his interest. So he heads to Bifrost, Manitoba, to the home of Howard Howe, played by Michael Parks. Long realizes too late that Howe has an insane plan for him involving body modification and walruses. (Random Question: when he gets his phone and calls Osment and his girlfriend — why doesn’t he call 911?)
Justin Long comes off as pretty annoying off the start; simply put, he acts like a dickhead Kevin Smith character to everyone he encounters; a Randall without a Dante, or perhaps a Brodie without a Quint. While this seemed irritating at the beginning, we start to see that it works for the character as the film progresses. Partly because we eventually see through flashbacks why he acts that way, humanizing him a bit, but moreso because it sets him up, hubris-wise, for the shitstorm he has coming his way.
Michael Parks would be one of the actual reasons to see this movie. He played it to the hilt, as he did in Smith’s slightly underrated Red State. He captures batshit insanity, managing to make it hilarious and weird, but also kind of sad and scary. He’s working with some ridiculous and over-the-top material as he spins his seafaring yarns to Long, but his well-balanced acting brings it all home to port.
Johnny Depp, on the other hand, puts forth one of the worst performances of his life (is that a spoiler? Maybe if it was a secret worth preserving. I feel like it’s more important to warn you about how shitty he is). He plays a French-Canadian stereotype/ex-cop, Guy LaPointe, who has been hunting Howard Howe for years. Sure, it’s part that the character kind of sucks, but it’s made much worse by Depp’s lethargic performance and bad accent, which sounds more like Christoph Waltz than a French-Canadian. His whole character comes off as someone that stepped out of a really bad amateur Internet sketch comedy, perhaps something The Not-See Party would ridicule.
Without giving too much away, the big reveal is pretty hilarious, if you are okay with body modification horror, that is. If you’re sickened by such things, get ready to barf. It’s as scary as it is funny, though it probably happens too early in the film, which causes the movie to hit a brick wall, losing all momentum as it staggers across the finish line.
Tusk has some of the earmarks of a great B-movie horror comedy, but it also has some of the trappings of a lazy writer that’s just showing off how clever he thinks he is (and that he knows Johnny Depp). It’s a horribly uneven film, however, it may not be as bad as some have made it out to be (it gets 39% on Rotten Tomatoes). While I cringed at a lot of the film, I also saw some characterization in there and found that there were some laughs to be had. Perhaps the issue is that they stretched an hour’s worth of decent material into a full-length movie and the rest is sawdust.
I like that Smith has been spreading his wings into other genres and ideas the last few years, trying to prove he’s not a bro-comedy one trick Walrus. Perhaps if he slowed down and focused on the execution of some of his ideas, the conversation about Smith in movie geek circles (outside of his blind followers, of course) would be framed a lot differently.