For as long as I can remember, I have been a fan of Kevin Smith and his movies. While in high school, I remember going to see Dogma the first week it came out, laughing as a handful of protesters showed up to “picket” the movie. In the fall of 2001, during what was most likely my first off-post pass from AIT at Fort Jackson, we walked to the nearby shopping center, and after a meal at Golden Corral, watched the craziness that was Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. I have not missed a Kevin Smith movie in theaters – except for Cop Out which was released when I was in Iraq – since that viewing of Dogma, which to this day remains my favorite movie.
Starting with Red State three years ago, Kevin Smith has just decided to make the movies he really wants to make. While many Smith fans are waiting for Clerks III, or his detractors are waiting him to finally retire as he stated after Cop Out, he keeps coming up with original ideas for movies, things that don’t show up in movies these days, the majority of which seem to be adaptations, reboots, or sequels. And while Tusk itself is an adaptation, it is probably the first movie adapted from a podcast, or at least the first major* release. This unique origin probably adds to quirkiness of the movie.
*Even though Tusk is a independent movie with a relatively small budget, it is getting a wide release, and has the weight of Kevin Smith behind it, so it will get a little more attention than other independent movies.
The movie centers around a podcast duo Wallace Bryton and Teddy Craft, played by Justin Long and Haley Joel Osment, respectively. Their podcast, the Not See Party, is basically Wallace telling Teddy stories about his travels to see the weird and crazy things. The latest crazy thing takes Wallace to Manitoba to interview the Kill Bill Kid, a boy who accidentally cut his leg off with a samurai sword in a video sent to the duo. Unfortunately for Wallace, the KBK is dead when he finally makes it to Winnipeg, distressing Wallace and leading him to look for another story so his trip isn’t a waste. A letter in the bathroom of a bar leads him to Howard Howe (Michael Parks) and promises of tales of sailing the world.
Wallace makes the two hour drive to Bifrost, Manitoba to meet Mr. Howe at his mansion, who regales him with stories from his time at sea, including when he shared a drink with Ernest Hemingway before D-Day and being lost at sea only to be saved by a walrus he named Mr. Tusk. Wallace is soon unconscious because of something that Howard placed in his delicious tea, and he wakes up groggy and in a wheel chair with an unexpected surprise.
Meanwhile, back in Los Angeles, Teddy and Wallace’s girlfriend Ally (Genesis Rodriguez) are hating on Wallace for being a scumbag that chases groupies while on the road because of their massively successful podcast. Wallace hasn’t checked in a few days, leading both to speculate that he is off cheating again. However, when Wallace manages to get a hold of his phone and leave them both haunting messages on their respective phones, they set off for Manitoba in search of their missing friend.
After checking in with the police (Ralph Garman), they are told to check with an eccentric former police investigator from Quebec named Guy LaPointe (Johnny Depp), who is on the trail of Howard Howe for a series of murders across Canada. In a flashback, he tells the story of how he met Howe before, and the scene can be viewed as a masterclass in acting between two of the finest actors today. From this point, Teddy, Ally, and Guy get on the trail to find Howe and see if they can save poor Wallace.
As the movie ended, and the credits rolled, playing part of the Smodcast episode that inspired the episode, I was left trying to figure out if the movie was good or just too weird to be good. After thinking about it for a while, and watching some old episodes of The Office as a form of eye bleach, I am convinced that the weirdness of the movie actually makes it better than a lot of the other movies that might be out there. Sure, there have been other movies out there in the same vein – Human Centipede seems to have mentioned the most – but I don’t really see any connection. It was a truly unique idea that was well-executed by Smith and his cast.
Michael Parks is again given an opportunity to shine, and his Howard Howe felt like a creepier version of Abin Cooper from Red State. Justin Long goes full jerk, maybe a bit too much, but once he is captured by Howe, he transforms accordingly. Johnny Depp chews the scenery a bit, and he is almost unrecognizable behind his fake nose and horrible facial hair, but his character adds a bit of levity to things when it is needed. Osment and Rodriguez aren’t really given much to do in the grand scheme of things, but they still manage to convey fear, sadness, and horror when appropriate.
But the true triumph is Smith being able to translate his vision from podcast to film, and the snippet that plays during the credits outlining the third act is almost a shot for shot match to what is described. This bodes well for the future of the rest of the “True North Trilogy,” with Yoga Hosers up for next year. Depp’s Guy LaPointe returns in that film, along with the two convenience store clerks played by the daughters of Smith and Depp. After being seemingly burned out from making movies after his experience with Cop Out and trying to get Red State made, it’s nice to see Smith finding his direction in film again. If you want to see a truly original film this month, say #WalrusYes and go check out Tusk.
Until next time…