Mark Reviews Movies

Tusk (2014)

TUSK (2014)

1 Star (out of 4)

Director: Kevin Smith

Cast: Justin Long, Michael Parks, Genesis Rodriguez, Haley Joel Osment

MPAA Rating: R (for some disturbing violence/gore, language and sexual content)

Running Time: 1:42

Release Date: 9/19/14

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Review by Mark Dujsik | September 18, 2014

It's nice that writer/director Kevin Smith provides a little bit of context for this movie during its closing credits. The movie is "based on actual events," but the credits also tell us it's based on an episode of Smith's podcast. As the credits roll, we get to hear some of that episode, as Smith explains the climax and denouement of a hypothetical movie, which is now a real one. He chuckles and guffaws as he explains the absurd nature of what would happen, which is pretty much what does transpire in the actual movie. Smith gives the impression of mocking the concept as he goes.

One guesses that the whole thing is a lark—an exercise in coming up with a terrible idea for a bad movie and taking the whole thing to its ridiculous end. If that was the plan, then perhaps congratulations are in order, because Tusk gets it mostly right: This is quite a bad movie, featuring a ridiculous central concept and plenty of terrible choices.

With the addition of the clip from the podcast, it sounds as if the whole thing is simply an in-joke between Smith and his most ardent listeners. That's fine for them, but Smith's screenplay never clues us into the movie's intentions. For everyone who isn't in on the joke, the movie is an incomprehensible oddity.

It's partly a horror movie about a diabolical killer (Michael Parks) who surgically transforms his victims into, well, something. It would, perhaps, be unfair to reveal exactly what the madman has in store for his latest captive, given that it's probably one of the few surprises here. Let's just say that it's likely not what any rational person would expect (although the character gives plenty of hints in the buildup), and that, just because it's a surprise, does not mean it's a good one.

The movie is also partly a comedy about Wallace (Justin Long), the host of a popular podcast with an off-putting name, searching Canada for weird people that he can mock on his show. His original target, a kid who accidentally cut off his own leg while playing with a samurai sword, has committed suicide, so a note on the wall of a bar bathroom leads him to the killer and, given that he starts losing his own limbs, a certain kind of poetic justice.

Meanwhile, his girlfriend Ally (Genesis Rodriguez) and best friend/sidekick Teddy (Haley Joel Osment) end up searching for the missing host with the help of a strange private detective. The casting of that role is the movie's only good surprise, and one must either be quite observant or do some searching on the web to determine the identity of the actor under the makeup, the costume, and the silly accent.

It is possible that Smith is working to ridicule the grotesquery of "body horror" movies, although the tone of the scenes between Wallace and the killer, who lures his victim into a state of trust with stories of knowing Ernest Hemmingway and being lost at sea and household various decorations like a walrus' phallic bone, suggests otherwise. The only somewhat amusing thing about these scenes of mutilation and torture is their contrast with how dumb the madman's motive and goal are. If it's parody, though, nothing informs of us of that. The whole of that plot is played with a straight face, leaving us utterly befuddled by the notion that Smith seems to think the vision of Wallace's bizarre transformation is going to horrify.

The structure, too, is messy, inserting flashbacks here and there to give us insight into Wallace and Ally's relationship (on the rocks), how Teddy and Ally are connected (predictably), and speculation about the crazy guy. The eccentric detective is the only hint that there might be some overtly comic intentions on Smith's part, although that character spends most of his time in the movie giving painfully protracted explanations about things we already know. Then there's a flashback scene of a conversation between the detective and the killer, and the "joke" is that actors are reciting their dialogue as an extended showdown of goofy voices.

There's one more thing worth nothing. During the clip from the podcast episode, we also hear Smith tell his listeners to vote "yes" or "no" on social media to the idea of making the movie. Obviously, the yeas won. Sometimes democracy works, and sometimes we end up with something like Tusk.

Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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