Tuesday, 7 October 2014


Sony Pictures

A serial killer who transforms his victims from man to walrus? It's as crazy a high concept as there ever has been, one that came about as writer-director Kevin Smith was spit-balling on his podacst. But what sounds funny on the air -- and in one's head -- doesn't necessarily translate to the screen, and so it is with Tusk: an oddball, not uninteresting creature which ultimately doesn't stay afloat.

Wallace (Justin Long) is one half of the Not-See Party along with Teddy (Haley Joel Osment), comic podcasters who riff on pop culture and perhaps entertain themselves more than they do their audience. But they've managed to build up a following and an income, even if Wallace's girlfriend, Ally (Genesis Rodriguez), prefers the 'old' Wallace, the guy who was broke but nice.

It's when Wallace heads to north Manitoba, Canada to interview a hapless teen, whose video of an accidental amputation has gone viral and which Wallace and Teddy mocked mercilessly on their show, that things go south. Upon arrival Wallace discovers that the teen has finished the job his wayward samurai sword began, ending his own life.

With his interview gone and time to kill, Wallace stumbles onto another subject via a 'room for rent' notice in a men's room, introducing him to Howard Howe (Michael Parks). Howe is a loquacious host and former seafarer, with tales of Hemingway, D-Day and a shipwreck in the Russian arctic, and Wallace seems to have struck gold.

That arctic tale reveals Howe to be a soul survivor who, once he made it to land, found comfort and companionship in the arms (flippers?) of a walrus he named Mr. Tusk. Unfortunately for Wallace, he's about to become the latest victim in Howe's mad ambition to recapture the past by creating his own man-walrus. Cue gruesome limb removals, a body suit fashioned from human skin and other indignities and horrors (karmic retribution perhaps?) which aren't entirely without humour.

Intentionally or incidentally, Tusk references all manner of film and literature, from Shelley's Frankenstein and Melville's Moby Dick, to Rob Reiner's Misery (1990), Silence of the Lambs (1991) and Pedro Almodovar's own Frankenstein tale, The Skin I Live In (2011). There's even a hint of Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby; Howe's desire to recapture that golden moment on the island between man and beast recalling Gatsby's longing for Daisy and a past long gone and a future that could never be.

Sadly, nothing in Smith's film is as eloquent or poignant as Fitzgerald's prose. And while there is some great dialogue -- mostly delivered by Parks -- Tusk loses the momentum built up in the first half when Teddy and Ally arrive in Manitoba in search of Wallace, teaming up with Quebecois detective, Guy Lapointe, to track down both men.

It's this star cameo (no spoilers here) which hampers the film's genuine sense of dread: an extended flashback involving Lapointe is excruciating, thanks in no small part to his absurd accent and not helped by his Depardieu-like proboscis. What could have been a truly disturbing denouement is lessened by unfunny theatrics (not to mention a too obvious music cue).

Tusk is not a terrible film but it is bad. And not in a "so bad it's good" kind of way. Cult status may beckon for this latest effort by a director who indeed has a strong following, but just as a man in a walrus suit is still just a man, you can't help thinking that Smith the filmmaker has become an emperor without clothes.

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