Sure, “Tusk” is completely ridiculous—but it’s Kevin Smith-style ridiculous.
Kevin Smith’s latest film “Tusk” asks a very simple question: “Is man, indeed, a walrus at heart?” The answer is unequivocally, “No.” However, this doesn’t stop the filmmakers from spending more than an hour and a half developing the theme. Despite being one of the most absurd horror movies ever made, “Tusk” is fairly well done. The central conceit of the film might wear thin by the end, but at no point did I feel that my time was wasted.
There are many who would argue any time spent on a movie about a man being surgically altered into a walrus is too much. There are many that would find “Tusk” disgusting, idiotic and perverse. Those people are probably right. I have no argument against any of those things.
At the same time, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I sat alone in an empty theater chuckling the entire time. This wasn’t because “Tusk” is a good movie, although I’ve seen much worse. It’s because as asinine as the idea might have been, Kevin Smith and company made it anyway—and likely had a great time doing it.
The film had its genesis during a podcast by Smith and his cohort Scott Moiser as they were discussing a fan idea.The fan suggested a movie about someone responding to a personal ad and being forced to wear a walrus suit in order to get paid.
The pair took the idea several steps further, combining it with films like “The Human Centipede,” and asked fans to vote yes or no on whether or not to make the movie. Anyone who has been on the Internet for any length of time knows what the outcome would be.
Justin Long plays Wallace (...sounds like walrus), a podcaster who seeks out the weird and offbeat people of the world and interviews them so he can later ridicule them on his show. In the film, Wallace is travelling to the Great White North to interview a young man who accidentally cut off his own leg while playing with a samurai sword.
He discovers, much to his dismay, that the overwhelming attention of Internet stardom has driven his interview subject to suicide. Frustrated by this setback, and showing little empathy for the departed, Wallace seeks a new subject. In a dive bar in Manitoba, he finds a letter from an old man wanting to share his stories of high adventure. Wallace seals his fate (pun intended) as he sets off to find him.
The highlight of the film is not the walrus suit itself. The effects in this film are necessarily low budget, and, to be honest, the more ridiculous the human/walrus hybrid looks, the funnier it is. No, the performance of Michael Parks as the mad surgeon/pinniped-obsessed Howard Howe is by far the most dynamic and exquisite part of the film.
His speeches, where he spews selections from “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and “The Walrus and the Carpenter” mixed with absolute insanity are as inspired as any performance I’ve seen this year. Parks is having something of a late career renaissance thanks to Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino, although he’s unlikely to win any awards if he continues to star in films like “Tusk.”
Justin Long is less convincing as a Wallace. He seems too good natured to be that mean, and during the later part of the film he’s reduced to making pained grunts and blubbers. Wallace’s eyes seem to be more accepting of his fate than one might imagine, but then it’s likely hard to emote when tusks fashioned from your amputated femurs have been implanted your face.
Of the other characters, French Canadian Inspector Guy Lapointe (played by a surprise, unpublicized guest) is a high point of the film, serving as a nice distraction from the bizarre serial killer/walrus man relationship developing in other scenes. Jokes involving Canadian stereotypes are in abundance, to the point of overuse, but given how stretched the plot is in general, they were likely necessary.
Several reviewers have criticized Kevin Smith fans as enabling the filmmaker’s dumb ideas. They claim that there isn’t enough of an idea in “Tusk” for a full-length movie. I can certainly understand that perspective.
At the same time, however, I love that Smith is willing to take something so stupid so far. We need more of that. Studios should be taking more chances so that we don’t repeat the past summer of boring and uninspired sequels.
If someone was willing to make “Tusk,” I can only imagine what might follow.