When his best friend and podcast co-host vanishes in Canada, a young man joins forces with his friend's girlfriend and a former detective to search for him.
I wouldn't consider myself a Kevin Smith apologist, but I've always seemed to like something about his films, even the less-than-well-received ones like Jersey Girl or Zack and Miri Make a Porno. I even thought his non-comedic thriller Red State had a lot of interesting moments. But for the life of me, I have no idea what he was thinking (I have a pretty good idea of what he was smoking, though) when he was shooting 'Tusk'. The movie might have worked if Smith had made it a flat-out comedy or a flat-out horror tale. Instead, he tries to balance the two, and the result is a movie that is not really funny nor scary. It's mostly just a bore.
For those not 'in the know', the idea for 'Tusk' came from one of the weekly podcasts that Kevin Smith does with good pal and occasional producer (although not on this movie) Scott Mosier, where the two came upon an Internet posting where a man was looking for a roommate willing to wear a walrus costume for him a couple hours per day. The posting turned out to be a hoax, but that didn't stop Smith from requesting feedback from his fans online as to whether he should pursue a movie version or not. The overwhelming response was positive, and 'Tusk' is the result. Sadly, the concept that Smith and Mosier came up with in their podcast (a portion of which is in the bonus materials of this release) was much more entertaining as an idea than an actual movie.
The movie's plot features a podcaster named Wallace (Justin Long) who, along with pal Teddy (Haley Joel Osment), hosts a weekly podcast called 'The No See Party' that (much like Smith's own podcasts) makes fun of trending social media stories and other bits of entertainment news. Wallace's latest idea is to go to Canada to interview a teenager who inadvertently cut his leg off while trying to make a video of himself swinging a samurai sword. When Wallace arrives in the Great White North, however, he discovers the teen has died, leaving him in search of a subject to interview. While using the men's room in a bar, he sees a posting on the wall from a man who claims to have had many adventures and many stories to tell. Thinking he has a great interview subject for his next podcast, Wallace sets up a meeting with the mysterious man, named Howard Howe (Michael Parks).
If there's one right move Smith makes in his latest effort, it's hiring Parks in the Howe role. Parks was the best thing about Red State, and he's the best thing about 'Tusk' as well – giving his villain a calm creepiness that enhances nearly every scene he performs in. Sadly, even Parks can't save what is otherwise a pretty lifeless effort by everyone else.
There should be some kind of increasing tension and horror as Howe slowly transfers Wallace into a walrus body part by body part, but Smith doesn't go that route. Instead, after a scene where Wallace realizes his leg has been amputated and (soon thereafter) makes frantic calls to both Terry and his girlfriend, Ally (Genesis Rodriguez), back in the States, the next physical transfer pretty much finishes the job, meaning at the half-way point of the movie, Wallace is already full-on walrus.
Smith wasn't insightful enough to realize that his mid-point reveal actually should have been his climax, so viewers are forced to watch a painful (and remarkably unfunny) final 45 minutes in which Ally and Terry make their way to Canada and team up with a wacky detective named Guy Lapointe – who is also credited as Guy Lapointe but who is actually being played by Johnny Depp. Lapointe once again gives Depp the chance to play a heavily made-up off-kilter character, but this time Depp manages to sink the entire film with his portrayal. It's almost as if a different film begins at this point – a wacky caper movie instead of a horror flick.
Even when 'Tusk' tries to scare us, it doesn't do a very good job. Those who read my reviews or blog posts on a semi-regular basis know I'm not the biggest fan of blood and gore in movies, so I was somewhat apprehensive going into 'Tusk' that I wouldn't be able to stomach the transformation of the main character. However, once Wallace has gone 'full Walrus', I found the final version of him to be laughably bad. I've heard Smith talking about how great the costume was on numerous podcasts over the past year, so it's a shame no one on the set had the guts to tell him how silly it looked. It doesn't really make this bad movie any worse, but I'm pretty sure it doesn't provide the shock and terror Smith was aiming for when revealed.
The biggest problem with 'Tusk' is that it tries to be too many things and fails at all of them as a result (I didn't even mention above how it sprinkles tons of 'Easter Eggs' into the movie that only loyal listeners of Smith's many podcasts will 'get'). As a horror film, it's neither scary nor gory. As a comedy film, it's neither funny nor raunchy. As a drama, it lacks any engaging storytelling. Heck, even as a Kevin Smith movie, it lacks any memorable dialogue or exchanges between characters, which has become the writer/director's hallmark over the years. The only real reason to check out 'Tusk' is as a curiosity or if one is a huge fan of Michael Parks. Otherwise, even the biggest Kevin Smith fans can skip this without feeling they've missed out.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Tusk' chomps its way onto Blu-ray in an eco-friendly Elite keepcase that houses the 50GB disc along with an insert containing the code for an UltraViolet digital copy of the movie. A slipcover matching the artwork of the keepcase slick slides overtop the case. The Blu-ray is front-loaded with trailers for Life After Beth, Under the Skin, The Rover, and 'The Devil's Hand', along with a promo ad for the Epix channel. The main menu features black and white animation that sort of tells some of the plot points of the movie without dialogue.
The Blu-ray in this release is Region A locked.
'Tusk' was shot digitally, primarily making use of Arri Alexa cameras, although a few shots were done via the RED Epic. The transfer here is a good one, with plenty of color and detail in most shots, although things get a little soft once we get inside the mansion where Howard Howe lives. So, while black levels are strong in most scenes, some shots in the mansion are a little murkier when it comes to shadow delineation, but not so horrible that you can't make things out. Other shots in the film, however – particularly those in the podcast studio and in the Canadian convenience store visited by various characters – look fantastic in high definition.
Contrast is solid and consistent throughout, and things like skin tones are also natural looking and consistent. In terms of issues like banding, artifacting, or noise, I could find no such glitches in the transfer. So, despite my issues with the movie itself, there's little denying that this is a nice-looking Blu-ray release in terms of video quality.
The only audio option here is a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, that more than serves this movie's purposes, although it lacks the kind of immersiveness and/or directionality one might hope for in a flick of this type. In short, the two rear speakers are primarily used to enhance the movie's musical soundtrack, and don't really feature much in terms of ambient or background noises. Dialogue, while crisp and clear throughout, comes exclusively from the front speakers.
While the track doesn't offer much in terms of directionality or imaging, the mix is otherwise well done and there are no issues in terms of hissing, popping, dropouts or (as often is the case with home video mixes) an improper balance between the spoken dialogue and the rest of the soundtrack.
In addition to the lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, the disc also features a DTS-HD 5.1 sound check option, as well as subtitles for the movie in English SDH, English, and Spanish.
Even the most die-hard Kevin Smith fans aren't going to know what to make of 'Tusk', a film that is neither a comedy nor a horror movie. The best thing it has going for it is a nice performance from the villain, played by Michael Parks. However, even Parks chewing the scenery isn't enough to save this beast of a movie, which needs to be taken out back and put out of its misery. Skip it.