Tusk Movie Review
Written by Joel Harley
DVD released by Sony Pictures
Written and directed by Kevin Smith
2014, 102 minutes, Rated 15 (UK)
DVD released on 8th June 2015
Justin Long as Wallace Bryton
Michael Parkes as Howard Howe
Genesis Rodriguez as Ally Leon
Haley Joel Osment as Teddy Craft
Every so often, a film comes along that makes me lose all sense of my normally fine-tuned critical faculties. More often than not, that film will star Nicolas Cage shouting about bees or have Lindsay Lohan in a blue dress, wearing a prosthetic leg; films that I know are probably not all that good, but I can’t help but love anyway, for all their silliness and charisma. Rather that than another dull backwoods slasher or cheap zombie nonsense. Caught firmly in that zone of filmmaking is Kevin Smith’s Tusk, a Human Centipede riff starring Justin Long as a man who, uh, gets turned into a walrus. Right.
I was all set to hate Tusk, which is based on a podcast by Kevin Smith and a fake Gumtree advert by hipsters (probably). I like some early Smith films (most notably Dogma) but couldn’t stand his Red State and had more or less given up on the man after reading his Batman comics (“say, wouldn’t Year One have been so much better if Batman pissed his pants during the big speech?”). Still, Tusk piqued my interest from the start, and, with some trepidation, I delved right in. Like Justin Long, I emerged from it a changed man.
Long plays podcaster Wallace (because it sounds like walrus, geddit) a man with a horrible moustache and an even worse sense of humour. Travelling to Canada in search of material for his ‘Not-See Party’ show (because it sounds like Nazi Party, geddit), Wallace happens across a most intriguing advertisement in a bar bathroom. This brings him to the home of one Howard Howe (played by a very good Michael Parks) who has some most sinister designs upon Wallace’s body…
…And then Justin Long is surgically transformed into a walrus. That’s not a spoiler – it’s the whole point of the film. After shooting his load, Smith’s story dead-ends, forcing him to introduce a whole subplot with Wallace’s girlfriend and podcast co-host Teddy (Haley Joel Osment!) searching for him in Canada, assisted by an almost unrecognisable Johnny Depp, giving either the best or worst performance of his career. It’s here where Tusk comes into its own, shedding any pretence of horror and becoming a truly bizarre black comedy in which Michael Parks and Johnny Depp stand on a porch talking nonsense at one another for almost fifteen minutes; a scene in which Parks’s character pretends to be mentally handicapped while Depp’s character probably is mentally handicapped, one drawling like a Hillbilly while the other speaks in a ridiculous French-Canadian accent that makes Captain Jack Sparrow look subtle by comparison.
In the middle of all this, Parks, Rodriguez and Osment give quiet, thoughtful performances worthy of a ‘real’ movie. It’s a shame, then, that they’re railroaded by Smith’s goofy writing, Long’s obnoxious, broad performance and whatever the hell it is Johnny Depp is doing. There’s no sense of unity to it, with every actor pulling in different directions, apparently acting in a different genre entirely from the others. The whole thing feels offhand and thrown together, as though Smith was too busy laughing at his own joke to keep an eye on what his actors were doing at the time. The big prosthetic doesn’t work either, being too well-lit and given so much focus that it tends to look exactly like what it is – a big lump of prosthetics with Justin Long’s face in the middle. At least it shuts him up though, and gets rid of that offensive moustache.
I was all set to hate Tusk, and this review certainly makes it sound like I did – yet, somehow, it tickled me in a place I didn’t even know I had. It’s shaggy, daft and frequently irritating, but there’s an admirable sense of attitude and style to the film that sets it apart from the multitude of remakes, bland exorcism and found footage horror releases we’ve seen lately. Objectively, it's awful. Viewed as intended, it's a hoot, packing an unexpected emotional punch at the end. Kevin Smith might not be the writer and director he once was, but Tusk shows that the big guy isn't so long in the tooth that he can't have a little fun every now and then. Long in the tooth – like a walrus, geddit.