Tusk is ludicrous. It’s a really bizarre film. Every time I tell someone that, they ask me the same question: “Bizarre good? Or bizarre bad?” I honestly don’t know the answer to that. But I’ll try to figure it out here.
Kevin Smith, the former indie auteur turned entrepreneurial broadcaster, writes and directs this horror-comedy based on a silly idea raised on one of Smith’s own podcasts. During their cyber gabfest, Smith and co-host/producer Scott Mosier concocted the story of a journalist who falls prey to a walrus-loving hermit. And that’s what they deliver, as promised. Ignore the “Based on true events” warning at the movie’s start and settle in for the goofy story of Wallace (Justin Long), the foul-mouthed co-host of an insensitive podcast (it’s called The Not-See Party… get it?) Wallace embarks around the globe on adventures suggested by the podcast’s listeners. He then returns to L.A. and recounts what he discovered to his partner, Teddy (Haley Joel Osment), who doesn’t travel because… well, a reason is given, but it’s so thin, it already slipped my mind.
Wallace’s latest trip takes him to Canada, where he intends to interview an awkward teenager who accidentally sliced his own leg off with a samurai sword. When that opportunity doesn’t pan out, Wallace lands on the trail of Howard Howe (Michael Parks), a gentle, lonely Canadian with a colorful past who promises to share captivating stories of his experiences at sea with Wallace – so long as the podcaster does Howard one crucial favor.
If you are reading this far, you likely know what happens in Tusk. It’s possible you don’t, and I’d be remiss to spoil it, because the reveal of Justin Long’s fate is the single greatest payoff Kevin Smith has to offer in his latest feature, and it’s the only reason to check out Tusk, at all.
Still reading? Howard, it turns out, regularly lures, drugs and abducts strangers foolish enough to visit his mansion on Pippy Hill, where he surgically transforms them into his beloved Mr. Tusk, a walrus he once befriended but had to kill in order to survive on a deserted island. And yes, Smith and his makeup department turn Justin Long into a walrus. (#WalrusYes) It’s pretty spectacular, in a deeply “WTF?” kind of way. In fact, most – if not all – of Tusk occupies such a comfortable state of “WTF?” that we have to assume this is Smith’s intention. Because seeing Justin Long transformed into a human-walrus hybrid might be the weirdest thing in Tusk, but it isn’t the only oddity by any stretch.
Tusk is a homegrown effort on almost every level, and part of the fun is pointing out the self-referential gags Smith includes, both for fans as well as for himself. Hollywood Babble On co-host Ralph Garman gets a few minutes of screen time as a polite Canadian detective. Smith’s wife and daughter play a fast-food waitress and a convenience store clerk (natch), respectively. And Johnny Depp appears in the film’s wandering third act as a suspicious, eccentric French-Canadian investigator – a cross-eyed combination of Columbo and Inspector Clouseau – who has been on Howard’s trail for years. Yes, I did say Johnny Depp. The real Johnny Depp. I told you Tusk is unpredictable.
The problem with Tusk, ultimately, is that it doesn’t hold up to scrutiny as a movie, despite its assemblage of commendably unusual scenes. Michael Parks continues to elevate Smith’s decent prose, and Depp is having the kind of fun he experienced on the first Pirates of the Caribbean film. But Justin Long has no range. Smith remains a self-proclaimed novice behind the camera (and in the editing room, where pace ends up being an issue). There’s shock value to Tusk. Whether that’s worth the price of admission will have to be up to you.