(US - 2014)
Written and directed by Kevin Smith. Cast: Michael Parks, Justin Long, Haley Joel Osment, Genesis Rodriguez, Guy LaPointe, Harley Quinn Smith, Lily-Rose Melody Depp, Jennifer Schwalbach. (R, 107 mins)
Since becoming one of the iconic faces of the '90s indie cinema explosion, Kevin Smith has spent the better part of the last decade trying to find a niche as a filmmaker ambling into his 40s. His 2004 film JERSEY GIRL got caught up in the post-GIGLI, "Bennifer" backlash. 2006's CLERKS II was a likable if unnecessary sequel, and 2008's ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO was accused of being a Judd Apatow ripoff. After parting ways with Harvey Weinstein and dropping his View Askew production banner, Smith helmed the laughless Bruce Willis/Tracy Morgan buddy cop comedy COP OUT (2010) and self-released the ambitious but not always successful thriller RED STATE (2011), a complete departure from his previous work that found him taking aim at the hate-mongering Westboro Baptist Church. Smith spends a lot of time on speaking engagements and his SMODCAST podcast, which led him to make his latest, the horror film TUSK. In the SMODCAST episode titled "The Walrus and the Carpenter," Smith and producer Scott Mosier were pranked by a classified ad that involved someone getting free room and board if they dressed like a walrus. They spent an hour of the "Walrus" episode batting around hypothetical ideas and at the end, Smith asked listeners to tweet "#WalrusYes" if he should make the movie and "#WalrusNo" if he shouldn't. Of course, "#WalrusYes" won out and now we have TUSK.
WE ARE WHAT WE ARE, have made good use of him in his elder statesman years. Smith cast Parks as a deranged, Fred Phelps-inspired evangelical madman in RED STATE, and TUSK gives the veteran actor his meatiest role in years, waxing rhapsodic about the sea, whiskey, women, and yes, walruses. But a little of it goes a long way, and once Long's Wallace is surgically mutilated, his tongue removed, and the femurs in his legs shaped into walrus tusks, the film has pretty much made its point and played all of its batshit cards but still has nearly an hour to go.
"Tusk" are the kind of things that belong in a fake trailer. Character development is sketchy--we learn through periodic cutaways that Wallace is a cheating asshole who probably loves Ally but can't resist the "road head" that his travels offer--and Rodriguez has a very good scene where she delivers a long monologue, spilling her feelings about Wallace directly to the camera, but it belongs in another movie. The more TUSK goes on, the more it starts to resemble the kind of prank that inspired it in the first place, like something its maker never really thought through or didn't fully understand how to approach. An unsettling, Cronenberg-ian body-horror film could've been made here, but instead, Smith opted for a self-indulgent home movie that only he and his buddies find funny. TUSK barely hangs together and it's a coin flip whether this or COP OUT is Smith's worst film, but everyone here apparently had so much fun that they're reconvening in his action comedy YOGA HOSERS, due out next summer, with Depp unfortunately returning as Guy LaPointe, which I don't see becoming his next Jack Sparrow.