(Scored out of ten; below 5 = not worth seeing, 6 = OK, 7 = good, 8 = great, 9 = fantastic, 10 = next to perfect)
Written and directed by Clerks creator Kevin Smith, Tusk follows one Wallace Bryton over the border and into Canada in search of strange and exhilarating stories only to find himself in deeper than he’d like. With a potentially interesting and hilarious premise in place Tusk could have been the platform propelling Smith back into nerd hearts the world over. But with an over reliance on lengthy monologues and redundant Canadian in-jokes the film fails to be all that compelling.
On paper, Tusk sounds hilarious. Wallace (played by the ever endearing Justin Long) co-hosts a podcast (kind of like Smith, coincidence!) about outlandish stories with his buddy Teddy (Haley Joel Osment). He Wallace decides to make the trek to Canada to interview a kid that accidentally chopped off his leg with a katana on Youtube. By the time he gets there the guy from the video has committed suicide, leaving Wallace with no material and out the cost of a plane ticket. He then gets loaded at a local bar and finds a letter on the wall of a bathroom stall. The letter is by one Howard Howe (Michael Parks) asking for a live in caregiver that will listen to his crazy stories about his time at sea. Sensing an opportunity to save the trip, Wallace meets the isolated senior at his home in the middle of nowhere. It turns out that Howard has an obsession with walruses and has centered his being on trying to answer the age old question, “is man really a walrus at heart?” Wallace then proceeds to get kidnapped, dismembered, re-membered and ultimately turned into the object of Howe’s affections, a walrus.
As I said, it sounds hilarious and by all rights it should have been. Justin Long is a great actor that brings his natural charm to the role but the material he is given just isn’t funny. Most of the time he spends making fun of Canadian stereotypes, that are perpetuated by every Canadian supporting character in the film, or talking about nailing chicks. Even that doesn’t get enough time to flourish as Wallace is turned into a Walrus fairly early on and can no longer speak. Forcing Long to grunt and scream for a good 45 minutes. A wasted opportunity if I ever saw one.
Michael Parks on the other hand is everywhere, and for the most part he nails the performance. He shifts between emotional sincerity and bat-shit lunacy with such ease that it almost keeps you interested. The only thing hampering his performance is the script. Every scene involves long winded monologues explaining character history which include flashbacks that contain even more expository monologues. There’s little to no action in the film (with the exception of the final act) which makes the experience more than grating. The stories are interesting but with little visual stimulation you tend to doze off.
There are a couple of notable cameos in the film that help spice up the narrative but they too quickly fall to the trappings of the rest of the movie. Johnny Depp has an extended stay as a French Canadian detective (who is also a drunk) that has spent the last few years of his life dedicated to finding Howe. His appearance is unexpected and funny at first but he is soon spouting boring exposition like everyone else that he too is wasted.
Harley Morenstein of Epic Meal Time plays a border patrolmen and is genuinely funny. He is another example of a perpetual stereotype but at least he doesn’t rant about nothing for ten minutes at a time.
Tusk had everything going for it. A solid cast, a unique and engaging premise and a good director. Somewhere along the line Kevin Smith decided to indulge his imagination a little too much and he lost control of the film. The number one rule of story conveyance is to show, not tell. This is an exercise in the opposite. Everything is told to us, repeatedly, while the characters sit around. It’s a boring film that squanders everything it had going for itself.
Justin Long transitions from over the top confidence to scared out of his head very convincingly but doesn’t stick around in human form long enough to leave and impression. Parks is even more impressive as the psychotic Howe. But with a story that moves along at a snail’s (or walrus’) pace and never provides a satisfying end to things it is all for naught. Tusk is a long-winded love letter to walruses and will only interest the most die-hard of Smith fans. #WalrusNo.
Overall I give this film 3/10