Kevin Smith, I think it’s time we take a break. No I’m not going to continue this piece in the vein of a break-up letter, but this is the tone that dominates much of my thoughts on him as of late.
If you don’t know what Tusk is or what led to its existence, welcome to the internet. Nevertheless, a classified ad secretly planted by a Kevin Smith fan was the subject of an episode of his popular podcast, SModcast. The “homeowner” in the advertisement offers a living situation free of charge, that is if the tenant sports a walrus costume full time. Smith and longtime producing partner Scott Mosier spend the entirety of the episode riffing and building on this idea and deform it into a bonkers, alternate universe Human Centipede situation. The conversation is so absurd and entertaining that it does make for a great podcast episode. It’s where this baffling concept is translated into a feature length film that the problem lies.
Tusk is a film that, frankly, gets annoyingly meta and self-aware as it goes along, but the plus side to this exists in the Justin Long character. He plays a podcaster that is to be the front, middle, and back of this Human Walrus-pede by the end of the film - but what you don’t already know by the time you walk into the theater is that Long’s character arc is one of the few great ideas that the film doesn’t hammer you over the head with but unfortunately doesn’t much capitalize on either. The specifics of the character and his pre-walrus condition almost leads you to believe that Kevin Smith is making a movie about his own celebrity; Long’s character, named Wallace (get it?), began his career as a meager but good-hearted stand-up comic but adopted a style of asshole Daniel Tosh-ian comedy that’s led to his and his podcast’s success. The catch is that over time Wallace has grown to fit the asshole suit he’s been wearing thanks to his success. Part of me would like to think that as self-aware as this film is about its ludicrous inception, Smith is at least as introspective about himself and gives a nod to his well-meaning critics with this character and points to a possible evolution. Sadly though, the evolution of Smith’s style that began in 2011’s problematic (but still worth seeing) Red State is stunted here, stuck in the muck of his own media presence rather than creating great art reflecting on and transcending that celebrity.
Wallace’s podcast, called The Not See Party (to give the film some credit, the gag is used pretty well in one small sequence later on) and co-hosted by Haley Joel Osment, documents Wallace traveling to different parts of the world to interview “weirdos” and report back on the show where he mostly makes fun of them. This time he’s off to Manitoba, Winnipeg to interview the online sensation known as the Kill Bill Kid (it’s exactly what you’re thinking) before his interviewee’s suicide keeps him stranded in the city with no one to podcast about. As a side note, for a film that is a product of the turbulence of the internet and is currently suffering from the short attention span of it, it is only fitting that a reference as dated as the Star Wars Kid finds its way into the picture.
However Wallace’s interest is peaked by Howard Howe, played by Michael Parks, who…okay let’s face it, by now you know where we’re going here. Parks is truly the MVP of Tusk, as he certainly was in Red State, and he sells the character’s often ridiculous dialogue with the red hot conviction of someone that believes every single word of it. As the scenes between them move forward in exactly the way you expect them to, it’s Parks that provides the glue to keep you on your seat and through the tedious humor. And the reveal of the walrus suit late into the film is really worth waiting for, it’s a moment that’s disturbing, hilarious, and flat out bizarre. It’s these chapters where Tusk has potential to be the cult B-picture that Smith and Mosier pitched on that fateful podcast episode. Then the rest of the movie happens.
The most thoroughly baffling element of the film is surprisingly not its premise, it’s the inclusion of Johnny Depp as a French Canadian private detective named Guy Lapointe in a performance that is best described as awful. (Second best description would be Eddie Izzard’s French accent playing an Inspector Clouseau type.) When he comes in he singlehandedly hijacks Tusk and any of the good will it had going for it. Perhaps the key scene in decoding this film’s entire situation is a flashback sequence where Lapointe describes meeting someone he believes to be Howard Howe, and you get an extended dialogue between Depp and Parks that is nearly indecipherable. Considering that Depp is still using his (maybe intentionally?) terrible French accent, Parks’ character is putting on a voice that makes him sound mentally challenged (probably intentionally) in the attempt of hiding his identity that doesn’t make enduring the scene any easier. It’s at this point that you sincerely don’t know whether Parks and Depp are the ones that got stoned while making this film rather than Smith and Mosier. I had a phenomenon during this scene that was similar to one I had during the entirety of another recent film, The Identical, where I seemed to completely lose control of my perception of what I was supposed to be watching. I laughed, but I think I laughed out of horror and shock more than anything in the scene actually working (although to once again give this film credit, “poutine-y weenie” kinda genuinely makes me laugh).
The sensation of knowing when a film has completely lost control or restraint of itself and its conflicting loyalties can bring a film into “so bad it’s good” territory in a perfect storm. This is what happened with The Identical, but I’m not about to congratulate Tusk for reaching that point because I don’t want to see Smith lose that control and I also don’t want to enable him the way a lot of his audience is doing by allowing such lazy indulgences to go unnoticed. In this situation it’s as if Smith is pointing to the viewer and saying “Isn’t it hilarious that this crazy, ridiculous fuck-off of a movie got in a theater and YOU paid to see it?!” Throughout the second half of the film this constant winking at the camera overtakes the horror of its first half and damages what could have at the very least been a good Tales from the Crypt episode. The most glaring example of this winking, besides Depp of course, occurs near the end of the credits where the music stops and a sample of that fateful SModcast episode is played that summarizes the ending you just watched.
I’m not sure what to make of that choice. Is it more wrong-headed attempts at self-awareness? Is it condescending to its audience? Is it pandering to its audience? I truly don’t have an answer for that, and who knows if Smith does either. But regardless it says worlds about his film. Where Tusk succeeds are the moments where there is an ounce of earnestness and dedication to its admittedly ridiculous premise. The rest of the time though, Smith indulges in his brand and its fan base to the point that the movie not only becomes a joke, but an inside joke, and one whose butt is squarely the film’s willing patrons that aren’t in on it.
We made this short last year with Jim Mahfood, Scott Mosier, and Joe Casey. We’re stoked with the final product, and Mtv has finally released it for everyone to see. Check it out, share it with your friends.
And then Hitler ate this bountiful fucking Mongolian barbeque the end. What a great story Scott. Uh...yeah...it ain't Mongolian barbeque. Border. FOOD GLORIOUS FOOD! I see it everywhere. That pretty much explains my whole existence
In celebration of the upcoming premiere of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 2, I decided to upload these excerpts from an older episode of Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier’s SModcast, where the two had just returned from seeing Half-Blood Prince in theaters and decided to share their (hilarious and inappropriate) thoughts on it. One of the funniest things I’ve ever heard. EVER.
Scott Mosier’s character in Chasing Amy, the guy who keeps telling Banky he’s a tracer, is one of my favourite bits in the film. Mosier is always so calm on SModcast and when you see him in interviews, it’s kinda funny when you see him being angry. He also plays a dick in Mallrats, and gets raged in Dogma. And Clerks, now I think about it.
Anyway, he’s funny in Chasing Amy, but I’m way past his scene now.
So, a producer I am a big fan of (Scott Mosier) is producing this documentary called Best Kept Secret. It’s about a school for special needs kids and what happens to those kids after they are pushed out of the school system at 21.
I watched the trailer and it’s pretty fascinating.
But they can’t complete the movie without some help, so check out the trailer, read about the project, and donate whatever you can if you feel so inclined. I listen to Mosier’s podcast on a regular basis and he’s always seemed like a genuinely cool guy who definitely has a passion for projects like this. So help him make this movie and feel good about yourself for doing a good deed today.