There was once a point in history where many of us, myself included, felt Kevin Smith had potential. After hopping aboard the underground film movement of the ’90s, the New Jersey-born comic book geek-turned-filmmaker made a big splash with Clerks (1994), next alienated critics while delighting audiences with the very crude comedy hit Mallrats the following year. But hey, that was 1995, and genuinely monumental motion pictures were few and far in-between. Next, Smith made a compromise: he delighted his critics as he alienated his audience with the not-so-romantic dramedy Chasing Amy (1997); a title that has since become the only Criterion Collection DVD release you’re likely to find in a bargain bin.
Truly, Kevin Smith’s highpoint was his fourth offering, 1999’s Dogma. And, while I laughed out loud a fair bit in the theater when my now ex-wife and I went to see Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back in 2001, it was safe to say that things weren’t looking up in terms of this particular artist’s “growing” as a filmmaker. (Need I even mention Jersey Girl or Clerks II?) Now, after several years of having various scripts about DC Comics titans Batman and Superman rejected, Smith – in the wake of disasters like Cop Out and that totally unnecessary bit part in the godawful British flick 18.104.22.168 – has lashed out at us all with Tusk.
If nothing else, Tusk should serve as a faultless example of why people shouldn’t listen to podcasts. This is because Smith and buddy/occasional producer Scott Mosier read an ad on Gumtree during one of SModcast (really) wherein someone offered free board provided they dressed in a walrus costume. Thus, after a near hour-long discussion by the THC-laced brains from the very same men who thought Clerk: The Animated Series was a good idea, a Twitter poll was initiated: Should their newfound tale be turned into a movie? Those who hashtagged “WalrusYes” to their accounts voted yes. Sadly, there weren’t enough people tweeting #WalrusNo that day. Why? Because it would seem not enough intelligent people listen to podcasts.
And so, Tusk was made. Having failed to make the grade as a superhero filmmaker, Smith chose the next best thing; to slightly emulate that of his current(ly waning) contemporaries Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. Here, Justin Long stars as a thoroughly unlikeable hipster douchebag podcaster, who first mocks and next goes to meet an internet celebrity known as “The Kill Bill Kid”; a poor dolt who cut off his own leg on a homemade video (courtesy some truly atrocious CGI). His dreams of further humiliating an idiot by being an asshole quickly dissolve when he flies up to Canada only to discover his goldmine committed suicide two days prior to his arrival. But a second chance at glory comes-a-callin’ in the guise of a letter on the urinal wall (really) from an elderly man offering free board and amazing stories to tell.
It is here that we are introduced to Michael Parks, the vastly underrated actor perhaps best known to anyone who remembers what movies were like before the likes of Tarantino and Rodriguez began to pay homage to everything everybody else did better before as the star of Then Came Bronson. Parks’ underappreciation was something Tarantino himself noticed, casting him in several movies over the years, usually as the same character! And while Parks is definitely the highpoint of the film, his character – a seemingly kind old seafarer who turns out instead to be a crackpot determined to turn his latest victim (the aforementioned thoroughly unlikeable hipster douchebag podcaster) into a walrus. No, you did not read that wrong. A crazy man intends to turn him into a walrus.
If Smith’s story wasn’t trying so terribly hard to be funny, it might actually succeed at it. Instead, he creates a black comedy wherein the humor is so dark, that you can’t actually see it. I’m sure a few hipsters liked it, as did all of the Twitter users Smith devotes three minutes of end credits to in order to thank, just like Peter Jackson did with the extended version of The Lord of the Rings movies (seriously, there were 45-minutes of names scrolling past). But ultimately, Tusk is a painfully unfunny comedy. Any social commentary that may have been hidden in-between the lines has been obscured by someone’s Sharpie scribblings. Any sort of irony has been ironed out by a lack of vision or just too much cannabis consumed by its creator. The jokes we’re supposed to laugh at hurl to the ground faster than one of Smith’s dejected superhero scripts at DC Comics’ headquarters.
So, as things play out: Parks abducts Long, amputates his legs, cuts out his tongue, and begins to transform him into a human walrus creature; using his own tibia bones to create tusks that he surgically grafts to Long’s face. Mind you, boys and girls, this is supposed to be “the funny”. Meanwhile, Long’s estranged girlfriend (Genesis Rodriguez, no relation to Robert) and podcast partner (Haley Joel Osment, whom you will no doubt remember as the kid that should have been cast as Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace) search for their missing cohort. And it is there that the movie somehow manages to become even worse, as a disguised Johnny Depp, hiding behind the alias of his character, shows up to give us what can only be described as Eugene Levy as a young Sid Dithers pretending to be Inspector Clouseau.
Were it actually Eugene Levy as a young Sid Dithers pretending to be Inspector Clouseau, it would be funny. Depp, on the other hand, just flat-out stinks, sinking the ill-fated production that box office receipts quickly proved was one of the lowest-performing film of the year; one that even lost out to Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas. Leaving no bit of scenery or dialogue unchewed, Depp plays a disgraced Quebec detective searching for the homicidal maniac, and who ultimately leads audiences to an ending that is even dumber than I thought imaginable – wherein, if you look real close, you’ll see even Haley Joel Osment is rolling his eyes. Along with anyone who hasn’t already turned the movie off or left the room. Seriously, even I considered turning this one off halfway through, and I managed to make it through two Barbra Streisand movies earlier in the same week.
For reasons as yet unknown to all of us, Lionsgate Entertainment has saw fit to release Tusk upon the world for all of humanity to not see on both Blu-ray and DVD. Each release even includes bonus digital copies of the film and special features including an audio commentary from a slightly-stoned Kevin Smith himself, various featurettes you couldn’t pay me to watch after that movie, a clip from the podcast that started it all (thank you, internet trolls), and two deleted scenes with an introduction by the writer/director who is reportedly in the process of making two more movies with the same cast, as part of an intended “True North Trilogy” – the end result of which, I’m sure, will be akin to having your legs and tongue severed by a madman and told to laugh at it all.