Kevin Smith’s first foray since “retirement” from film is nothing if not unique. As all of his films, it is weaved from the fabric of his own life. This time, the main character isn’t a lovable slacker or a duo of stoners but a womanizing, opportunistic, morally bankrupt podcaster named Wallace Bryton. Listeners of Smith’s own podcast might be wondering what aspect of the director’s personality actually makes it into Wallace, as Smith himself is quite affable. Wallace is traveling to Canada to interview a kid who cut off his leg with a samurai sword. This is hilarious to Wallace and his podcast co-host and friend, Teddy, because he did it on a YouTube video attempting to mimic “Kill Bill”. The fact that they are laughing so hard makes it unfunny and two men unsympathetic. This is the first five minutes of a film in which you kind of already know what’s going to happen and, though you shouldn’t, you root for it.
Wallace arrives at the kid’s house only to find that he killed himself. All Wallace can think is that he wasted $500 on a flight to Canada. Determined to find material for the podcast, he comes across a flyer in a bar restroom. An older man named Howard Howe has left an ad for free available housing. His only prerequisite is companionship and that the lodger perform chores that Howe himself is no longer physically able. This is where the film finally gets interesting as Wallace arrives at Howe’s estate and meets the man, who is confined to a wheelchair. Howe regales Wallace with some seemingly unbelievable stories involving meeting Hemingway at Normandy and others. It isn’t until Howe gets wistful over his friend Mr. Tusk, a walrus that saved his life, that Wallace passes out from something in his tea.
Wallace awakens, sedated, to find he has lost a leg. Howe tells him that he was bitten by a brown recluse spider and that a doctor, whom we don’t see, had to remove the leg to keep the venom from becoming lethal. Howe has also explained that the doctor is doing his rounds, though where he would do them is puzzling, and that he was instructed to remove all telephones from the house to keep Wallace from being bothered. With Wallace himself now confined to wheelchair and in no position to argue, though he obviously knows how deranged this all sounds. His own cell phone was supposedly crushed under wheel of his wheelchair.
Howe eventually gets down to brass tasks and lays out his nefarious plan and, unlike in a Bond movie, there is no stopping it. This is the one disturbing part of the picture. Howe reveals that he is not crippled and just grimaces at Wallace screaming from the realization of what is happening. There are a couple of curious plot points given in rapid fire here. The first is that Wallace’s girlfriend, Ally, reveals that she knows of his philandering and that she and Teddy are having an affair. The second is that Howe didn’t actually destroy Wallace’s cell phone but had, in fact, left it on the table where he drugged him. Wallace then finds the cell phone and leaves both Ally and Teddy voice mails that act as the trail of breadcrumbs they need to come find him, with the help of one of the oddest characters ever conceived.
The look of the film is fine and the production value is quite high. Smith assembled a talented group to put this together so fast and on the relative cheap. The cast is solid if a bit miscast. Justin Long and his silly mustache hardly come off as this callous Lothario Wallace. Michael Parks, seemingly transported directly from Smith’s last film “Red State”, turns in another gem of a performance as Howe. It’s a real pleasure to just sit back and listen to his long diatribes as everything that comes out of his mouth, however absurd, is music to the ear. There’s an element of Irish folk song to his voice that makes him captivating (watch his clinic in “Red State”). Monologues have always been Smith’s strengths though. Génesis Rodriguez as Ally is a bit under-utilized based on her incredibly moving monologue, the one emotional spike in the film. The biggest star in the film plays a part that would be considered beneath Steve Coogan in the French Canadian detective, Guy LaPointe. La Pointe is another podcast in-joke and his portrayal has all the gravitas of an even more bumbling Inspector Clouseau. But that’s Johnny Depp nowadays, isn’t it?
Some ideas and dreams are better left unrealized. The Smodcast that Kevin Smith’s new film, “Tusk”, spun so insanely from was an absolute laugh riot. The film itself seems to be intended to be horror. This identity crisis is the crux of the picture. In trying to balance laughs and scares, it fails to achieve either. The idea of an older man that seeks to turn another man into a walrus, in order to relive a friendship he had as a young man, is insane. The notion is absurdly funny and unnerving. “Tusk” is the shadow on the wall at night that you suspect is a monster but, when you turn on the light, is merely a coat rack.