Tusk: Kevin Smith Hits a New Low (Blu-ray)
What has happened to writer/director Kevin Smith of late? The man who once brought us great comedies like “Clerks,” “Dogma,” and “Zack and Miri Make a Porno,” took a rather startling turn about four years ago and delivered what many believe to be the worst film of his career, “Cop Out,” a terrible attempt at a comedy that truly felt like Smith was selling out (he directed it, but didn’t write it). He followed this project up with the very dark “Red State,” a bland film about crazy fundamentalists. For his latest project, we see Smith going even further off the rails, deriving the idea for the film from a bizarre classified ad in which a man was looking to rent out a room, with the stipulation being that the lodger had to dress up as and act like a walrus for two hours a day. If this doesn’t sound like very much to base a film off of, you’re absolutely right, and yet, here we are faced with Kevin Smith’s most recent work, “Tusk.”
Wallace Bryton (Justin Long) is a podcaster who has a pretty good life. His show, co-hosted by his buddy Teddy Craft (Haley Joel Osment), is very successful and he has an amazing girlfriend, Ally (Genesis Rodriguez). His latest podcast has featured a video of a kid accidentally cutting his leg off with a sword and it just so happens that this same kid has reached out to Wallace for an interview. The prospect of getting this amazing interview causes Wallace to fly all the way to Canada, only to find that the kid has committed suicide before he arrives. Thinking that all is lost, Wallace comes across a handbill in the mensroom of a bar in which a man, who claims to have lived an amazing life filled with incredible stories, has a room for rent.
Believing to have struck gold yet again, Wallace arranges to meet with the man, who calls himself Howard Howe (Michael Parks). At first, he dazzles Wallace with tales of having met Ernest Hemingway and surviving on an island with a walrus, but it soon becomes clear that Howard has a different agenda, one that he explains after he drugs Wallace and amputates one of his legs. It turns out that Howard became very good friends with that walrus back on the island and has been looking to have such a friend again… even if it means transforming a human into such a creature.
One of the primary questions that will be running through your head, of which there will be many, upon arrival at the end of the film will no doubt be why on Earth Kevin Smith would choose to make such a movie. It’s grotesque, dull, stretched-out, and offers absolutely no entertainment value whatsoever. So what was it that attracted him to the project in the first place? Oh right, a classified ad that made him laugh a lot on his podcast, an ad that he decided to darken even more and stretch into a 100-minute film, something that most people would be able to tell is a bad idea. On the whole, this is basically a slightly less awful version of “The Human Centipede,” a film that featured a psycho who sewed three people together to make the titular creature, except this time the result isn’t quite as gratuitous. That still doesn’t mean it makes for an interesting story, especially when the characters are merely paper-thin.
Speaking of the characters, another one of the questions you’ll probably find yourself asking is something along the lines of who in their right mind would even want to star in something like this. Michael Parks, who had been the best part of “Red State,” once again delivers some intriguing monologues (at least in the first half of the film) about his adventures, but after his plan is revealed, all that’s left for him to do is rant and rave about walruses. Justin Long’s character, after a somewhat promising opening, is reduced to nothing almost immediately after being drugged. What’s even more bizarre is the role of an inspector played by Johnny Depp, who becomes more distracting than helpful. It’s very unclear what he’s trying to do with this character. Is he trying to be the comic relief? Is he treating it seriously? Why is he even here? Perhaps he secretly owed Kevin Smith a favor? Let’s not even entertain the possibility that he read the script and thought it would be a fun project to do.
In the end, “Tusk” becomes something of an annoyance on top of everything else, an annoyance because the film does start off with something of a decent plot, only to become distracted by all of this walrus nonsense. It’s frustrating when you can see a far more interesting path for the film that the filmmaker himself can’t see, and you merely have to put up with it as he continues on the path that will inevitably spell disaster. As this is a film that raises an entire boatload of questions, let’s end with one more: Will Kevin Smith’s career survive this putrid mess, especially with it coming after two previous duds? With “Clerks III” in the works, we can only hope that he’ll turn away from this dark path, which obviously isn’t working, and be able to recoup that spark that made his films such a fun experience in the first place.
“Tusk” comes to Blu-ray in a 2.40:1, 1080p transfer of decent quality. There are times when a bit of blurriness is visible, but for the most part this is a sharp and clear picture that allows for a good experience throughout the presentation. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is of very high quality, which is especially helpful since the film is heavy on dialogue (thanks to Parks’ monologues). All sound elements are at great levels and are easily audible without adjustment. Overall, the film has been given pretty good treatment for being a rather small, low-budget flick.
Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Kevin Smith: An interesting commentary that features Smith taking you through how the film came about, along with other neat nuggets of info.
20 Years to Tusk: A featurette that has Smith reflecting on his career leading up to “Tusk.” There’s a little bit to be learned from it, but it’s not particularly worth the 24 minutes to watch.
The Making of Tusk: A multi-part featurette that covers a lot of behind the scenes material, including the original ad that gave Smith the idea for the film, pre-production, filming, and the making of the walrus suit. Lots to be learned here, plus lots of behind the scenes footage, so it’s definitely worth watching.
SModcast #259: The Walrus and the Carpenter: The original podcast in which Smith discusses the ad. If you’re interested in learning more about how this idea began, then you might find it worth checking out.
Deleted Scenes: Two scenes featuring more monologues from Michael Parks that are easily skippable.
Without a doubt, “Tusk” joins “Cop Out” at the very bottom of Kevin Smith’s filmography, being nothing more than a grotesque, unengaging, and overstretched film that’s easily a prime candidate for the worst picture of 2014. Smith needs to get back to what made him a success in the first place, and I don’t just mean by making “Clerks III” as soon as possible, but rather returning to the character-driven stories that he has a great talent for telling. For if he continues on this dark path (in quality and tone), which has done nothing but add terrible entries into his filmography, he simply might not have much of a career left to resurrect when all is said and done.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting Tuesday.
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