Fast Cut: Grotesque, sometimes hilarious comedy-horror.
Special Note: Shot in North Carolina.
Players: Justin Long, Michael Parks, Genesis Rodriguez, Johnny Depp, Haley Joel Osmont, Lily-Rose Melody Depp, Harley Quinn Smith.
Writer/Director: Kevin Smith (Zack and Mira Make A Porno 2008, Chasing Amy 1997)
Rated R for some disturbing violence/gore, language and sexual content.
Currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.
Once Tusk gets going, you realize your reactions to it are not an either-or thing. You want to both laugh and vomit, often at the same time.
If you like Kevin Smith and his subversive grand of stick-your-thumb-in-your-nostril humor, you’re young and male and think you’re cool. If you don’t like Kevin Smith, then you are old and uncool. Figure out which category you’re in before you lay out your hard-earned coins for this comedy-horror flick about a sicko surgeon who turns an annoying stranger into a walrus –yep, that’s the story. I am too uncool to make this up.
Wallace (Justin Long) is a ”real and raucus” podcaster who, with his recording room side-kick Terry (Haley Joel Osmont), is making a ton of money mocking You-Tube show-offs. His hot girlfriend, Ally (Genesis Rodriguez) complains she liked the nice old Wally better and won’t give him a blow job before he sets off in pursuit of the teenager who accidentally sliced off his leg with a Ninja sword. Upon arrival in Manitoba, Wallace discovers the young warrior kid has died. Now he’s stuck in the middle of nowhere with no one to make fun of.
Over the urinal in the local bar, Wallace finds a note pinned to the wall – an offer of room and board in a mansion—given free if you listen to an old man’s stories. Ah ha! Fate has entered the picture and made Wallace’s air fare pay off. He proves what an insufferable American he is by bickering with two gum-chewing convenience store clerks, then heads out of town in a dark and stormy night.
Up to this point, Tusk has taken full rein of its comedy personality. As a former resident of Canada, I think any jokes about Canadians are hilarious. (Never mind that the film was shot in North Carolina.) Even funnier are Canadian jokes about Americans. So I laughed my head off. Then the film switches gears.
Wallace finds himself in the remote Pippy Hill estate where he meets the owner, Howard Howe (Michael Parks), who entertains him with tales of his sea-faring past. In the morning Wallace groggily tries to recover from the poisoned tea he’d drunk – and discovers that one of his legs is missing.
Suddenly things aren’t so funny anymore. To the film’s merit, at times it’s truly a good horror flick—creepy and insane and draw-joppingly scary. It’s well-shot and edited, the music is appropriately pulsing, and the gore is believable and gruesome thanks to a talented make-up and prosthetics team. Let’s just say that what happens from now on in Tusk makes 1990s Misery (Clint Eastwood, Kathy Bates) look like a tale for kindergarteners.
The performances run the gamut. Michael Parks (Kill Bill Vol. 1 and 2) as the demonic tragedy-obsessed surgeon is near-to brilliant, as unforgettable as Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter. It’s hard to be a likeable movie victim but Justin Long manages it –he even creates sympathy for his character’s unflagging will to survive, when any normal man would have killed himself early on. Johnny Depp makes an uncredited appearance as a loony Quebecois homicide detective. He’s barely recognizable and truth is, kind of boring in a subplot that goes on entirely too long. More interesting is his daughter Lily-Rose Melody Depp, who plays the shorter blonde convenience store clerk, next to her best pal, the director’s daughter, Haley Quinn Smith. (The director’s wife is the restaurant waitress.)
When it’s not poking fun at somebody, or being acceptably scary, Tusk unapologetically descends into the realm of remarkably repulsive. The darn thing is so over the top grotesque that it probably will become a cult classic. But I don’t really care how many internet sites are lauding the “emergence” of director Kevin Smith into the big time. I had to close my eyes too many times to care about anyone else’s opinion.
Tusk does have a great moral that young filmmakers should take to heart — never follow up a story idea that you find over a urinal.
Extras: Kevin Smith’s blog
Marcianne Miller is a member of SEFCA (Southeast Film Critics Assn.) and NCFCA (North Carolina Film Critics Assn.) Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.