Leave it up to Kevin Smith to make the tale of a man forcibly transformed into a walrus into a monstrously boring film. The premise of Tusk is the punch line, so once that’s laid out, there’s nothing left but Smith’s lengthy bits of dialogue that simultaneously combine gutter humor with cultural insights. The flood of puns, wordplay, and pop culture references is Smith’s attempt to prove he’s still relevant as a filmmaker. It’s surprising that somewhere along the way, no one stopped to tell him that his indulgent dialogues and shallow jabs at Canadians and Americans aren’t enough. You kinda need a story in there somewhere. And tighter editing, for the love of god.
The impossibly watchable Justin Long stars as Wallace, a crass podcaster (sound familiar?) who travels to Canada and unintentionally winds up in the home of a serial killer, Howard Howe (Red State’s Michael Parks). Wallace is drugged and through a series of amputations and modifications, Howe turns him into what he sees as the noblest of creatures, the walrus. Well, as close as you can come to making a walrus-human hybrid, I guess.
The morbid spectacle of the walrus’ reveal is the film’s crutch, what the audience is waiting to see the whole time. The deranged payoff is certainly worth it (I won’t spoil anything by discussing how the beast looks) and bound to draw nervous laughter from the audience. Makeup wizard Robert Kurtzman, whose credits include Evil Dead II and Wishmaster, created the walrus, which is ‘70s monster suit silly and sickening at the same time.
Wallace’s tragic fate is cut with flashbacks before his trip, when he’s arguing with his girlfriend Allison (Genesis Rodriguez). Up until the walrus bit, Smith manages to create some sympathy for Wallace, but these flashbacks reveal him to be a self-centered prick who demeans his girlfriend as much as his fans. While Allison longs for the sincerity of the old Wallace, new Wallace revels in his internet fame and how much he made in ad revenues last year. Now Wallace’s torture is seen as his comeuppance (one of horror’s well-worn staples), but it comes off as unmerited since it’s revealed that Allison is a cheat as well. Who the hell are we left to root for?
Smith’s answer seems to be Johnny Depp, who emerges during the third act like a tonal curveball. He plays a French-Canadian investigator who’s been hunting Howard for years. To call his role “indulgent” is going easy. Depp wears a beret, is cross-eyed, and talks in a broken, drunken accent. It’s always nice to see Depp ham it up, but holy hell does Smith quickly wear out the character’s welcome. We’re introduced to Depp through a painfully meandering scene that must last nearly 30 minutes and causes the pace to come to a screeching halt.
Tusk wraps up with a dose of undeserved sentiment that simultaneously manages to fall flat and insult the audience (moments before, Smith throws in a flashback to explain to us why this scene is so tender. Y’know, because we can’t figure that out ourselves). The film at least manages to be his best looking film to date, thanks in great part to DP James Laxton (Myth of the American Sleepover). However, Smith relies far too heavily on his one-trick sight-gag. It’s a fun and nasty visual, sure, but it’s not enough. If only he could write a competent script without meandering into tortuously long zones of irreverent references and dick jokes, Tusk might be a good film. Instead, it’s just a bore.