Tusk – Kevin Smith – 2014


Kevin Smith’s Tusk is about as naked a piece of self-expression disguised as a genre exercise I have seen since Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof. Tusk is a provocative mad scientist tale, whose uneven tone is reflective of its shabby mad scientist creator, and I’m not talking about Michael Parks electrifying Howard Howe. I’m talking about Kevin Smith, whose mastery of the English language and of storytelling itself has become a new kind of self-aware subtext. I’m not saying Tusk is about Kevin Smith, but how can anything created so insularly not be incredibly reflective of the personality behind breathing life into it?

Tusk begins basically with Justin Long, asshole podcaster with minimal fame and frequent flier miles, headed into Manitoba to interview a jerk kid who sliced his leg off in a popular youtube video. Long makes his name making fun of internet jerks ala Daniel Tosh, and despite being affable in delivery, Long’s character is written as a complete jerk who likely enjoys many infidelities on his little field trips. Through a note found in a bar bathroom Wallace, (rhymes with Walrus), contacts Howard and before you know it Howe is serving tea in his mountain mansion and telling tales of his time at sea.

Justin Long mimes a walrus cock ejaculating on him.

After a short time and several incidents involving the sawing of a leg Howe makes clear his endgame, (well sort of…), he plans to turn Wallace into a kind of replacement for his long lost Walrus friend Mr. Tusk.

The horror of this stuff is really in the face of Michael Parks any time he’s on screen. He sells this ridiculous premise through the roof and the film will become a legend on the strength of this alone. However, just as things get humming Herbert West style, we meet Guy Lapointe.

Guy Lapointe is Johnny Depp, investigator contacted by Long’s girlfriend Genesis Rodriguez and his buddy Haley Joel Osmet. Depp is borderline awful here, crossing his eyes and affecting a terrible French-Canadian accent that borders on criminal. Still, this is the movie, and these plotlines must intersect.

By the time Howe has made Wallace go “Full Walrus”, he reveals a few more gory details about his past and the ultimate fate of Mr. Tusk. He then dons a Walrus suit himself and the two walruses have a walrus fight.

Wallace survives and is left at an animal reserve. His friends come and visit him and throw him some fish.

Before I get into any subtext, let’s talk about all the great things that are on screen, starting with Justin Long. He kills it in this role, and it’s damn punishing. Not many actors would do this, as it’s up there as one of the least glamorous things I’ve ever seen an actor be asked to do. He owns it and re-invents his image. He can go anywhere from here.

Genesis Rodriguez and Haley Joel Osment basically function as a unit, a symbol of faithfulness, even though the two of them are cheating on Wallace with each other, they love who he was and is so much that they wouldn’t abandon him when needed. They essentially believe that Wallace might transform into something better someday, and would even give up their little affair if that happened, but it’s there to remind you that there’s always a good guy around the corner, waiting to treat your girl right.

And finally, let’s talk about the man himself, the show-stopper, and in my universe a future Academy Award nominee, Michael Parks. The reason I’ll watch this film again and again is because this man is given some juicy, awesome, best -all-time-mad-scientist shit to say. The stuff that spills out of his mouth is both so fucked up and so totally awesome in his beautiful delivery that you’ll want to see film of a younger Michael Parks having adventures on the Seven Seas. His pathos, his childhood is so rich one might say he’s Smith’s greatest creation.

This is exactly what Wallace is to Howe.

Howard Howe. How did he become this man? How did he survive? How will he achieve his evil ends? Howe is a man who wants to atone for past misdeeds. He wants a fighting chance at atonement for what wrong he did. What wrong did he do? When Howe was abandoned in the ocean and left for dead a walrus took him to a rocky outcropping with a fresh water stream and fed him fish for months. When there was no more fish, (or when How was tired of fish, the teller of a story is rarely intentionally objective, (more on that later)), Howe slayed and ate the Walrus, destroying the good will between him and the beast.

If he can construct the perfect vessel, he might be able to feel better about what he has done, or at least be at peace with the ghost of Mr. Tusk.

Wallace Bryton is a used-to-be funny podcaster who basically makes lowest common denominator jokes in order to fly around the country getting laid despite the fact he has a perfectly amazing piece of ass back home. Genesis Rodriguez, come on now, that some dude would cheat on her is pretty far-fetched…I digress.

Here’s the thing, let’s imagine in some fictional universe in which some guy pissed off his perfectly awesome girlfriend. This awesome woman, who at one point in his life, when he was surrounded by an ocean of misunderstanding, provided the nurturing environment he needed to survive and flourish. Then after consuming the goodwill of his soul-nurturing benefactor by flying around the country, profiting off of lowest common denominator comedy to a cult of myopic devotees, the walrus dies. This is soul crushing, and to an artist there is only on path to absolution, catharsis, and at the very least expression. You tell a damn story.

You build a Frankenstein of a story designed to give you a fighting chance at absolution. You want more than anything to build that Walrus back from scratch, but you know you deserve to be dead for what you have done, or worse you deserve living permanently in the doghouse, living on fish, knowing Genesis Rodriguez is banging the I see dead people dude.

So what the fuck is up with Guy Lapointe? He is everything wrong with the narrative. He screams Deux Ex Machina, and those two kids could have easily solved the crime themselves and saved Wallace, and the film would in fact have been much stronger had it been written that way. Guy Lapointe is basically the Band-Aid on the problem, and really the shaggiest beast of all. He ambles in at the last minute and due to his basic incompetence has not yet caught the killer. Yet, despite this last ditch effort, the stars line up so he meets these kids. He solves his problem and gets his man.

And that’s what Tusk is. It is Guy Lapointe. It’s a last ditch effort to solve a problem that is inherently broken. Does it work? I don’t know, but Smith’s wife is a producer on the film. And she even acts in one scene. With Johnny Depp!

Finally, I must say, I truly loved the film, including the terrible performance by Johnny Depp. It’s fucking romantic as all hell, and if it saved Kevin Smith’s marriage, I think that’s sweet as fuck.


One Response to “Tusk – Kevin Smith – 2014”

  1. This is a brilliant analysis of the film!

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