Tusk, the latest from Kevin Smith, is Snakes on a Plane filmmaking, an idea without a story.
Release date: September 19, 2014 (USA)
Director: Kevin Smith
Stars: Justin Long, Michael Parks, Johnny Depp
Running time: 102 minutes
MPAA rating: R
Justin Long plays a smarmy podcast host who ends up getting kidnapped by a loner kook (Michael Parks) who wants to turn a man into a walrus. Which isn’t really enough to sustain 102 minutes of film, but Kevin Smith’s Tusk tries.
More concept than movie, Tusk sees Smith both going out of his comfort zone with something close to a comic thriller while simultaneously retreating into some of the worst possible instincts, in particular, allowing Johnny Depp to run roughshod over the film with a performance that might be the most indulgently tic-filled burlesque I’ve seen in a long time.
And it’s genuinely frustrating to write this, because in spite of how narrowly conceived this movie is, it’s hard not to respect the economy of the first half or so. Smith knows that you came to see a man being made into a walrus and, spoilers, you get to see just that in fairly brisk clip. But as with The Human Centipede (a comparison the Tusk marketing has been playing up), once you’ve seen a man sewn into a walrus suit, there’s nowhere to go but down.
Which is how we get the back half of the film, marked by a lengthy monologue from Depp’s French-Canadian detective Guy Lapointe. Depp’s acting here feels like a true nadir for both Smith and his own respective careers. And somehow, both top themselves in another lengthy scene where Depp’s Lapointe interrogates Park’s character who is pretending to be retarded to throw off the cop’s suspicion.
This scene is next-level awful, and I kind of shrank down into my seat a little as it went on (and on), embarrassed for everyone involved. Contrast these moments with how Smith and Parks handle the villain’s earlier scenes – patient, big but not broad – and the Depp stuff starts to feel painful, like Smith either lost control (or simply gave it up) with the Lapointe scenes.
I don’t think Tusk ever had a shot at being “good” given how thin the material is. But it was interesting, and Parks was – for a minute – imminently watchable in a movie that largely isn’t.