Friday, September 19, 2014

A Reel Review: TUSK

A long time ago…writer and director Kevin Smith was often considered to be the voice of his generation; with his self-deprecating humor and wearing his pop-culture influences without shame on his sleeves, he was a filmmaker whom everyone listened to. These days it’s been unclear exactly what he stands for or what he is trying to tell us, and his newest film, TUSK, is very representative of where his head is.
Wallace (Justin Long) and Teddy (Haley Joel Osment) are a team of podcasters who make a career out of exploiting people. Wallace is lured to the home of Howard (Michael Parks), who promises to tell his tales of adventure on the high seas, but is then horrified to discover that Howard instead wants to turn him into a walrus (you read that right).

TUSK is a horror-film which is horrifying and ridiculous at the same time. Once you wrap your head around the concept of a villain surgically turning a man into a walrus (a concept which is a hard-sell even three-quarters through the movie), the focus goes to the main character, Wallace. Unfortunately for TUSK, Wallace is an unlikeable jerk that you feel no sympathy for; he’s the type that has an over-inflated ego, talks-down to everyone, and makes a living out of other people’s misery. It becomes clear that the film is less about the hero and more about the villain, and this is where TUSK shines. The character of the sick and deranged Howard is fleshed out nicely, with his backstory making for an excellent motivation for his disgusting transformative surgeries. When Howard is allowed to flex his dark side and the blood starts to flow, TUSK makes for some excellent horror.
Long-time fans of Kevin Smith will lap up a lot of what this film has to spill. Smith loads up the film with his usual pop-culture references and uses his characters to speak his opinion on his favorite things; movies, hockey, comics, and (ahem) podcasting. Smith also pushes his fascination with bodily fluids and once the juvenile-level humor starts coming in, TUSK loses its bite. The film bounces back and forth between a straight-up horror film and a parody, and it’s impossible to tell what the film is trying to do. It’s frustrating, because the horror elements work so well and they become negated by all the stupid crap Smith can’t help but to inject into the film. TUSK winds up being a self-referential vanity project over a horror movie.

Acting is superb. Justin Long has to do the most work in conveying the horror of his situation and nails it. Michael Parks is fascinating as he changes colors every five seconds. Haley Joel Osment is treated like an extended cameo, and Genesis Rodriguez, who appears as Wallace’s girlfriend, puts in an outstanding performance and signals the world that she can act. Towards the middle of the film, a very famous actor makes an uncredited appearance as a private detective hot on the trail of the killer, and the extended-extended cameo takes too much time and air out of the film. Smith can’t keep the camera off him and his scenes drag on for way too long, which gives the impression that TUSK was stretching to make its silly story go for a feature-length.
Thematically, TUSK is all over the map. As a horror film it floats well, but Kevin Smith’s lack of maturity torpedoes it too often. In the hands of an adult the material could have been embraced in all of its glorious gore. TUSK has nothing to say about anything with only a few bright spots.


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