Long before it became hip to hate Kevin Smith for no reason, I became a fan of the guy's movies. I'm still a fan of the guy's movies. Not being one that's particularly into podcasts, I've never really given much of a look to his whole Smodcast thing though. Tusk is an idea apparently born from one of said podcasts, about a guy getting turned into a Walrus. As ridiculous as that concept sounds, knowing Kevin Smith was getting behind the camera again, there was no way I wasn't going to be watching it.
The movie did the usual festival circuit, Toronto, etc. and then almost unbelievably, it got a limited theatrical release. Even more unbelievably, it played in a theater 20 minutes from me, I was gonna get to see it on the big screen. Being that I have work, and responsibilities beyond movie watching, I wasn't able to make it on opening weekend, but I had plans to see it the following Wednesday. The theater pulled it on Tuesday. Disappointed was me. Fast foward to now, and Tusk is finally on VOD, and I got a chance to watch it.
Podcaster Wallace Bryton (Justin Long) runs a popular podcast known as the "Not-See Party", a show that pokes fun at internet "celebrities" like The Star Wars kid or Antoine Dodson, complete with one on one interviews. When a trip to Canada ends up being a bust, Wallace is drowning his sorrows at a local pub in Manitoba. He comes across a strange letter hanging on the wall above the urinal, written by a man who claims to have a lifetime of stories to tell and nobody to tell them to. Not wanting the trip to be a total waste, he calls the guy. When he arrives at a mansion in the middle of nowhere, he's greeted by a wheelchair bound man named Howard Howe (Michael Parks), who offers him some tea and regales him with tale after tale from the interesting life he's lead. Things quickly turn sinister when Wallace learns of Howard's affinity for the noble walrus, and just how deep his love for the animals goes. Meanwhile, Wallace's podcast partner, Teddy, and his girlfriend Ally, enlist the aid of a private investigator to try and track him down.
Tusk isn't Smith's first foray into what could be considered horror, his last movie Red State dealt with a religious cult, and also starred Michael Parks. Personally, I thought it was fantastic, so I was more than ready for more of Kevin's darker side. Tusk plays to that a bit, particularly in the first two acts, as things are pretty twisted for the first 45 minutes. After that though, it's hard to describe exactly how I felt about things. While still dark in tone, things almost get lighthearted, especially when the private investigator, played by Johnny Depp, comes into things. If I had to compare his inclusion, and what ultimately ended up being the mood breaker, I'd compare it to when Lin Shaye showed up in Insidious. Everything was going great, and then...BAM, complete shift in tone. Thankfully, in Tusk the transition wasn't as jarring, and even though there was tension, things were so ridiculous that it was almost hard not to laugh at them anyway. Couple that with the fact that Wallace really was a dick in the first place, and it was hard to feel all that bad for him, If Wallace had been in any way likable, the change most likely would have ruined the movie for me. As it stands, Tusk is insanity, but the kind that you can laugh at.
There's not a lot to talk about effects-wise, and what is in the movie isn't supposed to look good, or hell, even feasible, so let's just say it works for what it is. There's not much blood or anything like that, this is more of an atmospheric horror-thriller that's also a comedy but it's not really any of those. If you're looking for a were-walrus on a rampage, you're going to have to look elsewhere. And for God's sake, if you find that somewhere, please get in touch with me.
Performances and dialog are always the strong points of Kevin Smith movies. They may not be your thing, or your sense of humor, but I think Kevin certainly has a gift when it comes to realistic characters and dialog, and his ability to bring out incredibly believable performances from the actors he works with. Tusk continues in that tradition, save for one disappointing exception. Justin Long and Michael Parks of course are the main focal point for a majority of the movie, and the two of them are great together on screen. Things are moving along well until the aforementioned tone shift, when Johnny Depp shows up. I'm not sure if it was just the character, a French-Candaian ex-cop turned private eye, or what, but we've all come to expect better from Depp, and he's just off in Tusk.
When the credits finally rolled, and I sat and thought about how I felt about Tusk, I knew two things: 1, I liked it, and 2, I had no idea how in the hell I was actually going to be able to put those feelings into words that made sense to anybody unfortunate enough to be reading them. This movie just might be the new definition of "not for everybody". In fact, it invents it's own sub-genre, titled "not for every Kevin Smith" fan. I liked it a lot, but at the same time, I totally understand why so many hated it. If you're in the market for something different, not just from Smith, but different than everything in general, Tusk is worth a watch. If you're into horror/comedy/suspense/thriller in the more traditional sense, you'll probably want to skip it. I'm sort of on board for this new, jaded version of Kevin Smith as long as he's producing original, insane concepts like Tusk. While I don't expect Yoga Hosers or Clerks III to be anything even close to what this is, I certainly can't wait to see them, or what Kevin comes up with next.