Fantastic Fest review: Tusk
What a piece of work is walrus. How noble in moustache, how infinite in teeth. In form and moving how noble and dignified! In action how like a seal, kind of! In apprehension how like a … walrus. The beauty of the deep! The paragon of animals!
OK, fine, not everyone feels that way. But in “Tusk,” the newest film from a back-from-retirement Kevin Smith, a strange Canadian named Howard Howe sure thinks so.
The faintly insane “Tusk” started life on Smith’s podcast when he and producer Scott Mosier started riffing on an classified ad offering free lodging to anyone who would spend a few hours a day in a walrus suit. Turned out the ad was a prank, but Smith liked the concept so much he asked his podcast audience to vote if they wanted to see this movie. When they said yes, Smith cranked out a script, shot the thing over 17 days last November and, well, here we are.
Wallace Bryton (Justin Long, sporting the perfect jerkwad moustache) is the obnoxious host of the “Not-See Party” podcast, in which he goes out to interview oddballs and reports back to his co-host and friend Teddy (Haley Joel Osment, of all people). Bryton is the sort of dipstick who laughs at a viral video of a kid cutting his leg off and then decides to trek to Canada (a longtime Smith obsession) to interview the guy.
The kid is, shall we say, unavailable, but Bryton doesn’t want to leave the Great White North without a story, bumbling around like the ugly American he is. (He manages to alienate two girls behind a convenience store cash register in about 30 seconds flat; the girls, played by Johnny Depp’s daughter Lily-Rose Depp and Smith’s daughter Harley Quinn Smith, are due for their own movie.)
Grabbing a mysterious ad off a bulletin board, Bryton drives to Bifrost, Manitoba (played by North Carolina) in search of the dude who put it there. At a house in the middle of nowhere, he encounters one Howard Howe (a creeptastic Michael Parks). Howe has a very specific request to make of young Bryton and quickly and violently assures the young journalist that he won’t be leaving the house anytime soon.
Meanwhile, Bryton’s somewhat needy, somewhat put-upon girlfriend Ally (Génesis Rodríguez) is torn between being worried that Bryton hasn’t checked in with her and annoyed that he is off hooking up with girls on the road. (One guess to whom she pours her heart out about it.) When it becomes clear that something is really wrong, Ally and Teddy head to Canada, where the movie swerves from body horror back into comedy with the appearance of French-Canadian detective Guy Lapointe (an unrecognizable Johnny Depp), who has been searching for Howe for some time.
Not everything works. There are actually a few logical flaws regarding Bryton’s ultimate fate (and yes, there is something faintly idiotic about complaining about logical flaws in a movie such as “Tusk,” but that is the nature of disbelief-suspension, folks). And as a filmmaker, Smith’s anti-style is so distinctive as to become a signature. The camera doesn’t move much. There is plenty of monologue, a few straight to the camera. Scenes seem to last slightly longer than they need to; has there ever been a Smith scene that couldn’t use a few seconds trimmed out of it, usually in the middle?
But there is something weirdly pleasant about seeing a decent (ok, half-decent) Kevin Smith movie again. Sure, it’s awkward in spots, but it is definitely, definably him. Even if Smith is preaching to the converted, it’s nice to hear his goofy voice once more.