Kevin Smith’s “Tusk” is a bizarre, twisted movie. There are disturbing images in it that will remain seared into my memory for months to come. It’s a horror comedy; a cross between an abduction/torture picture and an R rated guy comedy. Think of a more ridiculous “The Human Centipede,” with comedy…and walruses. The picture is set in Canada. A place known for having benevolent, helpful people also houses one Howard Howe (Michael Parks), a crazy old seafarer that had an encounter many years ago that he’s never quite gotten over. This is why he abducts comedy podcaster Wallace (Justin Long).
As far as plot is concerned that’s really all I want to say. “Tusk” is a weird, screwed up movie—I don’t think I’ve quite stressed that enough—but weirdness can only take a film so far, even a horror movie. The rest of it is admittedly weak and insignificant.
Besides Howe, the characters are either obnoxiously written or virtually nonexistent. Wallace is a big jerk who spends the first twenty or so minutes doing nothing but running his mouth. He only draws sympathy because the treatment he goes through later on shouldn’t happen to anyone. Otherwise he’s completely unlikable. Meanwhile, Wallace’s girlfriend Ally (Genesis Rodriguez) and his podcasting partner Teddy (Haley Joel Osment) figure so prominently into the last third of the movie but hardly make any impression. As I sit here, writing this review, I can’t remember a single interesting thing about them.
And then there’s Johnny Depp—sporting an accent that sounds like a cross between Swedish and Canadian--as Guy LaPointe, an ex cop who knows all about Howe. I’m not sure who’s to blame, Smith or Depp, but Guy is easily the worst, most annoying character Depp has ever played on screen. He’s eccentric just for the sake of being eccentric. The character is absolutely superfluous to the plot and yet he’s given a lengthy scene where he goes on a never-ending monologue explaining an encounter he had with Howe and reexplaining information we already know about the deranged kidnapper. I guess he’s meant to be funny but he isn’t. The audience at my screening remained dead quiet during his tirade. Howe is the only interesting, fully developed character by a mile and Parks does a fine job. But even his performance—initially mysterious and sinister—turns into a series of bloated misanthropic diatribes.
Smith’s pacing is extremely sluggish. The picture is full of dialogue-heavy interactions that—that feel improvised--and that go on way too long without building much character or propelling the story forward. I’m fan of talky movies but a disturbing horror movie is not the place for overly talky sequences like these. After a while they begin to feel self-indulgent and slow the movie down. Eventually, “Tusk” just runs out of juice. Smith’s screenplay doesn’t have enough suspense and tension to sustain the movie’s one hundred and two minute run time. It also doesn’t help that “Tusk” isn’t very funny. Not because of its disturbing nature but because most of the attempts at humor feel forced and overly obnoxious. And any funny individual lines are drowned out by those endless speeches and dialogue back-and-forths.
“Tusk” feels like a personal project of Smith’s; it was conceived on his own podcast, in fact. Considering it’s difficult to find original ideas in movies these days I’m glad he got to make this. It’s sick and twisted, no one will deny that and I’m sure die-hard horror fans will be delighted by it. However, Smith doesn’t have enough material written to warrant a full-length feature; what begins as intriguing quickly turns into a chatty, unfunny bore.