Three years ago, Kevin Smith came out with his truly independent film Red State. While I thought it was a solid flick, there is no denying that the third act is a bit disappointing. There is also no denying that this Kevin Smith was reinvigorated to make films again that felt personal. Spawned out of an idea from one of his SModcast episodes, Smith put it out there for the audience to vote #WalrusYes to go ahead and make the film, Tusk or #WalrusNo to stop with just the story and not make the film. All but one voted #WalrusYes. So, here we are. Kevin Smith has a horror/comedy/WTFuckery called Tusk, but is it any good?
Justin Long plays Wallace Bryton who is a podcaster (we used to do one too) that ventures to Canada to interview a kid who embarrassed himself via a viral video. When that falls through, Wallace tries to grab a story out of thin air to make the trip worth while. Wallace finds a posting where a man talks about all the stories he wants to tell someone before he shuffles off his mortal coil. Wallace jumps at the opportunity and meets a man named Howard Howe (Michael Parks). Howe romanticizes Wallace with stories that sound like untouched storytelling gold (all while Bryton isn’t recording…hmmm). After a few sips of tea, Wallace realizes he is poisoned and before you know it, he’s out cold on the floor.
Narratively, the film juggles through the current story through flashbacks and a subplot with Wallace’s girlfriend, Ally, played by Genesis Rodriguez. This is a bit disorienting at first because, mainly, Smith hasn’t really done this before. Kevin Smith’s strength ever since Clerks (and why Clerks is still a classic) has been his dialogue and the fact that you can identify with his characters easily. With Tusk, there is not a lot of that here and it is one of the many missteps of the film.
Wallace Bryton is a deplorable, annoying character and it seems like Smith wants you to know that yet identify and sympathize with him at the same time. Smith also wants you to have fun with the crazy absurdity that is happening story wise. While he gets you in that mood, he is quick to give you a scene where Ally confesses via a slow dolly closeup that she hates Wallace for the man he has become. This scene is more intense than any of the other shit you’ll see in the film. You feel her. You get where she is emotionally. It is one of the strongest moments in the film. However, it all falls apart when Smith brings you back in to the macabre comedy with a character being turned into a human walrus.
There is also Guy Lapointe. One look at the IMDb page will ruin this character but I won’t ruin it here. This character, while fun, also doesn’t fit in this movie. Lapointe is a detective who has been tracking a serial killer that he believes is the one that has kidnapped Wallace. He meets with Wallace’s co-host, Teddy Craft (Haley Joel Osment), and Ally in Canada after they cross the border to find Wallace, to inform them that he believes he can find Wallace. He also thinks he is the only one that knows who this man looks like as he believes that he talked to him a few years back. This results in a odd flashback that not only adds another layer of ridiculous (think Roth’s Cabin Fever scenes with Dennis) but also makes you feel like you are watching a totally different film altogether.
Tusk is an experiment on the viewer’s expense and it is divisive as all hell. It’s a mess tonally but still feels almost strangely intriguing at the same time. Sadly, there really isn’t anything here – as strange of a beast the film is – to revisit. It is a film that will make you question every move that Smith makes and probably get angry at the end result. I’m beginning to wonder if Smith has lost his shit for real because for a film that is supposed to be about storytelling and that has scenes around it, it doesn’t feel like he is actually crafting a story here. He is just giving us weird shit.