There’s a point in Tusk where it becomes clear that Kevin Smith gave up caring. Depending on your threshold for bullshit, it’s either the first appearance of Johnny Depp or the first appearance of the walrus, but either way, that’s where the movie falls apart. Up until then, there are hints of a good movie: the concept isn't bad, and Smith manages his tone remarkably well, particularly in scenes between Michael Parks and Justin Long. But then, Smith throws his hands in the air, says “fuck it,” and goofs off for the rest of the movie.
Yoga Hosers, the second part of Smith's "True North" trilogy, bears the same attitude as the second half of Tusk, but for an entire feature.
If you’ve seen Tusk, you know the Colleens (Harley Quinn Smith and Lily-Rose Depp): a pair of modern vapid teens, working in a Winnipeg convenience store, who act like magnets to bizarre goings-on. The goings-on this time involve one-foot-tall, sentient sausages, wearing Prussian helmets, swearing fealty to Adolf Hitler, and murdering innocents via rectal penetration. It’s up to the Colleens - and Quebecois detective Guy LaPointe (Johnny Depp) - to find the root of this evil and stop it once and for all.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with this concept. I love a good stupid movie as much as anyone else. (Hell, I made one.) But there’s dishonesty at the heart of Yoga Hosers, stemming from a disagreement between its (and its creator’s) laissez-faire attitude and the themes underneath, that rankles harder than any of the dumb shit in Smith’s previous films.
Much of Yoga Hosers bears the hallmarks of a home movie. That's essentially what it is, after all: it stars Kevin Smith and Johnny Depp, their families, and their friends. Multiple scenes feature the young leads showing off their miscellaneous talents, performing multiple musical numbers directly to camera literally because Smith wanted to show off his daughter's talents. Throughout the movie, it feels like we’re watching a group of friends trade in-jokes without letting the audience in on them.
Harley Quinn and Lily-Rose - bless ‘em - do their best with what they’re given, but what they’re given is a pair of identical characters, bearing identical first names, often delivering dialogue simultaneously. There’s not much meat in there. Nor is there in the film as a whole, which is largely made up of riffs on the same stoned jokes Smith's been making for 22 years. The screenplay feels like a first draft, full of dialogue that a more disciplined and merciful writer would have excised long before the cameras rolled. The Canada jokes border on hate-crime territory - not because they’re mean-spirited (to the contrary - they’re fawning), but because they’re painfully obvious, easy punchlines about hockey, accents, and politeness. Every joke is tired before it hits the screen, from the Nazi who speaks only in Hollywood impersonations to the traditional string of scatalogical and sexual references. In the Q&A, Smith claimed to have done research for the movie, but it plays like it was written in one night, scaffolded around his daughter, the "Canadian Führer" Adrien Arcand, and Johnny Depp’s miserable caricature of a performance.
So Yoga Hosers is a literal joke to Kevin Smith, then. Or is it?
It’s impossible to discuss Yoga Hosers without engaging with the metaphor at its core. Smith explained it at length to the audience afterwards, as if it was some cleverly buried Easter egg, but it’s in the literal text of the film: Yoga Hosers is about Kevin Smith’s inability to take criticism.
Multiple characters in this movie complain loudly about “critics and haters.” Guy LaPointe brings it up briefly, but later, it's revealed that the principal villain's chief motivation is to get revenge against his own haters. Literally the whole plot revolves around killing critics - and that’s okay, says LaPointe, because they’re “not real people.” Not since M. Night Shyamalan’s Lady in the Water or Jon Favreau’s Chef has a film revolved so transparently around critical responses to the director’s previous film.
This elaborate, thin-skinned reaction doesn't jibe with Smith's façade that he doesn’t care what critics think. In every interview, he states that his films aren't made for critics - they're made for fun, for a laugh. He calls himself talentless, saying that Yoga Hosers in particular is “a fucking stupid movie.” By implying that his films mean nothing to him, he makes himself immune to criticism. But based on Yoga Hosers, he clearly does care. It is impossible to dedicate years of your life to making pieces of art (and as much as I dislike it, Yoga Hosers is still art) without caring at least a little bit. The Fantasia screening of Yoga Hosers demonstrated just how fragile Smith’s ego is: he spent an hour-long, rambling intro putting himself down in front of a sycophantic audience, then screened a film that characterises all critics as “haters.”
But no amount of self-deprecating jokes will make Yoga Hosers a better movie, or Smith a more honest filmmaker.
Next to all this, the “tangible elements” (thanks, Hulk!) of the film - the flat lighting, the cheap visual effects, the casual racism, the shaggy story, the teeth-grittingly forced Stan Lee cameo - just don’t really stick in the memory all that much. Even the squicky element of Smith leering, arms outstretched, at his daughter, trying to get into her butt - after another character spends a scene describing her virginity - doesn’t register after that third act. That Yoga Hosers is a bad movie isn’t quite as offensive as the implication that in response to Tusk criticism, Smith decided to make a statement about critics - then refuse to own it. At first I thought Kevin Smith didn't care about his movies, but now I see it's worse: he only pretends not to.
Here’s the thing about Kevin Smith: he’s probably not as bad a filmmaker as he seems. He’s just so scared of taking a risk - and crucially, committing to it - that he tosses off every film as if it means nothing to him. That tantalising glimpse at the Tusk that could have been only made that movie more disappointing, and Yoga Hosers doubles down on Tusk’s worst offences. Kevin Smith needs to tell a goddamn story and stick to it.
Either that, or start doing stand-up instead. He clearly enjoys that more anyway.