Movie Review: Tusk (2014)
In his last movie, “Red State,” writer-director Kevin Smith (“Clerks”) imagined three teenagers in a small Southern town searching for sex; instead they’re drugged and taken prisoner by a charismatic preacher (Michael Parks), and unspeakable things happen to them.
In his new movie, “Tusk,” Smith imagines a sensationalistic podcaster, Wallace Bryton (Justin Long sporting a Geraldo moustache), searching for a story in the backwoods of Manitoba; instead he’s drugged and taken prisoner by a charismatic storyteller (Parks again), and unspeakable things happen to him.
Failure of imagination? Yes and no. Because the things that happen to Wallace are much, much worse.
“Tusk,” based on one of Smith’s garrulous, comic podcasts, is in fact the most disgusting and pointless movie I’ve seen. Emphasis on pointless. I spent half the movie sick to my stomach.
Obviously if Smith weren’t talented, I wouldn’t feel this way. More’s the pity. He has talent and uses it for this.
Karma for the Kill Bill Kid?
It opens with laughter. It’s the laughter of Wallace’s podcast partner Teddy (Haley Joel Osment), who is cracking up over Wallace’s on-air riffing about the latest cultural flotsam: “Kill Bill Kid,” a hapless viral video sensation (a la “Star Wars Kid”), who lops off his leg with a samurai sword. And the video is still uploaded? And watched? And laughed about? Whatever.
Wallace, a jerk without a trace of empathy, plans on interviewing the Kid in Manitoba. Bad luck: he dies before the interview happens. Now what? Hey, in a men’s room Wallace finds a notice from a man promising great seafaring adventure stories! It’s only two hours away! And off he goes.
The mansion has all the trappings of a 1950s horror movie: wrought iron gate, tchotchkes, and an old man, Howard Howe (Parks), in a wheelchair. His stories are good: how he met Hemingway before Normandy; how he almost met his maker in the North Atlantic, but how he was saved by a walrus, an animal he considers “far more evolved than any man I've ever known.” Wallace listens, rapt, then with heavy eyelids; then he collapses, drugged, on the floor.
When he awakes? He’s in a wheelchair, and his left leg below the knee has been amputated. Karma for the Kill Bill Kid? No. Because that’s just the beginning of the decapitations and humiliations and mutilations.
Both Teddy and Wallace’s girlfriend Ally (Genesis Rodriguez), who are having an affair, search for him, but their efforts lead to a comic-relief Quebec detective, Guy Lapointe (Johnny Depp), who is neither comic nor relief. By this point, in fact, there is no relief. We’ve already witnessed things so horrific ...
I’ll just say it. By the time Teddy and Ally even get to Canada, Howe, who isn’t wheelchair-bound at all, has amputated Wallace’s other leg, cut out his tongue, knocked out his teeth, and stitched his arms to his sides. He’s taken Wallace’s tibia bones and fashioned tusks out of them, and inserted them through Wallace’s cheeks. Then he’s stitched him inside a pale walrus skin and chained him next to a dank basement pool. Wallace can only waddle and bark. He’s forced to subsist on raw fish. Howe pulls him into the water to force him to learn to swim. He calls him, gently, “Mr. Tusk.”
Are we supposed to laugh at the absurdity of it all? At the critics screening last month, other critics did laugh—at scenes that turned my stomach. They were like Wallace at the beginning of the movie laughing at Kill Bill Kid. But eventually the laughter stopped. Is this what Smith wanted? Stifling the laughter? What if you didn’t laugh at the beginning? What if you had a trace of empathy then?
The introduction of Guy Lapointe, with his bulbous nose, cross eyes, and long, pointless stories, is even more infuriating. It’s as if instead of Jodie Foster tracking Buffalo Bill in “Silence of the Lambs,” you had a bumbling, unfunny Inspector Clouseau. It’s as if, in the middle of an Ed Gein movie, Gallagher interrupts to do stand up.
Goo goo ga joob
The ending is the stupidest part of all. Teddy, Ally and Lapointe arrive at the mansion just in time to see Wallace kill Howe with his tusks. Then Wallace barks at them. To kill him? Probably. And Lapointe levels his rifle.
But then it’s a year later, and Ally and Teddy are visiting some sort of animal sanctuary in Manitoba. They’re somberly bringing something wrapped in newspaper. It’s a fish, of course. For Wallace, of course. Who continues to live as a walrus next to a pool, of course. Because? Because Kevin Smith couldn’t come up with a better ending? Because it mirrors stupid ‘70s endings that he’s always laughed about? Is that the point of all of this? Giggles for Smith and his thousands of fans?
After the disaster of “Red State,” Smith said he’s reached the “I don’t give a fuck” portion of his career. It shows.
-- A shorter version of this review originally appeared in The Seattle Times.