film reel image

film reel image

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Tusk 2014 * * * * Stars

TuskDirector: Kevin Smith
Year: 2014
Rated R
Rating: * * * * Stars
Cast: Justin Long, Haley Joel Osment, Michael Parks

In the flick I'm about to review, a side character in the form of a disdained detective says, "Canada doesn't have serial killers". I guess he never met Howard Howe, a dude who's dispatched at least 24 people. Howe turns Wallace into a walrus. That is, Justin Long's character gets the ultimate transformation treatment in Kevin Smith's surprisingly effective romp, Tusk. 2009 had The Human Centipede. 1990 had Misery. 2014 has this, a sick and twisted tale where an old timer psychopath (living in the middle of nowhere), abducts a wet behind the ears outsider, drugs him, and forces him to become a saber-toothed mammal.

Stereotyping my Northern neighbor of ten provinces and eerily scored by Christopher Drake (surprisingly, he usually writes music for video games), Tusk wants us the audience, to accept that if a human being is unfortunately turned into a walrus, well he must adapt to that form because there is no turning back. I mean if you take off his suit made of God knows what, what are you left with? Nothing but eyes and a beating heart, a total vegetable if you ask me. I realized how much this sat in about thirty minutes after a screening. It's all pretty manipulated, sickly, and gross stuff. But that's what great movies do. They affect you and leave you trembling.

The story begins with fast-talking, failed comedian turned Internet radio phenom, Wallace Bryton (Justin Long). He lives in Los Angeles and makes a ton of money off of ads for his program, The Not-See Party (that's how it's spelled, how comforting). His partner in crime is fellow radio host Teddy Craft (Haley Joel Osment). Wallace is confident and cocky (I don't know, what do call a guy with an outdated mustache who constantly cheats on his hot girlfriend). He's out for a story or interviews featuring weird and fascinating people. He does this to facilitate the viewers of his podcasts. On a tip from a young man who's own video of himself (cutting off his leg) goes viral, Wallace travels to Canada's Manitoba territory for a meeting. When said youngster ends up committing suicide, he instead looks for another guinea pig, one who's an old recluse (Howard Howe played by Michael Parks). He once was a seaman and has had his own share of trials and tribulations. He hates human beings (even though he obviously is one), he previously lived a torturous life, and now he has big plans for Wallace. (Spoiler alert coming) He ends up taking him in, putting something in his tea to knock him out, severing his limbs and tongue, and transforming him into well, Flipper. Adding insult to injury, he also puts Wallace's apparatus in a water tank and has him swim around with scenes of Nature Channel clips playing on two different TVs. Demented? Yup. Effective in the likes of horrific lore? Oh fer sure (Canadian slang term for ya).

Now for the record, it's hard for me to believe that Kevin Smith directed what's on screen here. Normally he implodes with a certain brand of raunchy humor and slacker characters. Not this time. Tusk starts out as silly with standard masturbation jokes and coarse profanities. It then descends into a nightmare. Your spine will tingle, the pit of your stomach will mesh, and when Smitty throws three quick zoom-outs at you (in between lots of flashbacks), you'll know that he's capable of capsizing the tourniquet on psychological terror.

Tusk will easily confirm to anyone that he's expanded his range as a director. Yeah, there's the occasional comedic overtones which can cause certain scenes to be uneven. But this won't however, deter you from its effectiveness. Smith's strong point is that he finally knows where to put the camera. It has never really been his forte but with this latest release, he matures in the way he sets up a shot (the ending one is a beauty as the lens pans away via a dejected, carnival freak). And usually, he's about the juvenile, Gen X dialogue in his comedies like Mallrats and Clerks. Here, it's more about characters delivering creepy monologues and making even creepier deferments. There's no jibber jabber about relationships, who had sex with who, comic books, or Star Wars anomalies. This is darker end of the tunnel stuff or as Martin Sheen's Willard would say, "the end of the river alright".

As for the acting, I didn't know Johnny Depp was in this thing till the closing credits. He's literally unrecognizable playing a homicide investigator who smokes ciggies while eating and puts hard liqueur into his milkshake (ugh). The real focus however, is on Justin Long and Michael Parks in the lead roles. They are excellent. Their portrayals as naive podcaster and crusty hurt monger will haunt you. J. Long toward the film's last half, acts forcefully with nothing but his eyes and howling screams. It's strange yet cool to see how different he is here as opposed to his cameo as an adult film director in Smith's Zach and Miri Make a Porno. Parks, who was in 2007's Kill Bill (a film which is obviously referenced in Tusk), is a veteran actor who's got a great voice and knows how to descend brilliantly into creep mode. When he quotes Ernest Hemingway by saying, "always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut", you cringe with open-ended despair. His turn in many aspects, is a total fireball. And finally, there's Haley Joel Osmont. All I gotta say is welcome back young man. You say you "see dead people". I say your career is destined to breath new life after everyone views you as an adult (Haley you stern lad with your suggestive dialogue deliveries. We hardly knew ya).

In conclusion, its been well documented that Tusk has gathered denouncement by most of today's critics (it stands at 39% on Rotten Tomatoes). I'm curious, is it because ballyhooed, comedic auteur Kevin Smith is at the helm? No matter. Towards the last few minutes of this catatonic masterpiece and possibly new found horror classic, Fleetwood Mac's faithful ditty is loudly played in the background. Singer Lindsay Buckingham shouts out the line, "don't say that you love me"! No problem sir. But I do however, love this morally jilted vehicle that's not as grisly or bloodied up as you might think (sans the shocking image of Long in his walrus suit which might cause you to go into therapy). It concentrates more on building enormous tension while its proceedings completely fester into your central nervous system (they pitch a proverbial tent there, trust me). The result: Four Stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

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