Tusk is a bad movie by a bad filmmaker who has given up trying and now longs to find virtue in not giving a shit. In terms of the walrus element you may have heard about, Tusk is not nearly as weird as people say, and anyone who who tries to tell you it’s a horror film is probably not trustworthy in general. So feel free to use Tusk as a way to identify the hurtful liars in your life.
Having said all that, I liked the film, though my enjoyment is more a matter of perversity than anything. Tusk fails in a way that I tend to find very entertaining. And aspects of it succeed in a way I tend to find very entertaining. And other aspects succeed in a way I tend to find very embarrassing. When I walked out of my mostly pleasurable viewing of the film, I kind of hung my head, knowing I was about to spend a whole night trying to explain and defend my thoughts on the film.
You probably already know that Tusk represents some kind of new phase in Kevin Smith’s increasingly bizarre career where he seems to be going rogue or something by making extremely niche movies that sound brazenly stupid. The story revolves around big jerk played by Justin Long who gets turned into a walrus by an eccentric old man played by Michael Parks. You may or may not know that the film’s second half is mostly an insanely long monologue delivered by a fascinatingly broad and ridiculous Johnny Depp.
Within this framework, some very interesting things happen. The film is a total comedy, but as a comedy, it is a tonal nightmare. Here’s what I mean - the scene in which Long and Parks initially meet and converse about Parks’ history truly has a radical tonal shift with every new line of dialog because while Parks goes for a subtle and genuinely brilliant comic performance, Long plays it so big and loud as to be almost painful. Every time one stops talking and the other responds, it’s like alternating between the soothing sounds of an orchestra and someone raking their nails on a chalkboard. Back and forth, back and forth, for a very long time. It’s fascinating. I have never seen someone drink tea with as much cartoonish, overplayed gusto as Long does here, and I can’t help but fall a little for such misguided nonsense from a filmmaker who clearly does not know better.
And then there’s Depp. Using the term as a pejorative, this has to be Depp’s Deppiest role ever. He plays French Canadian inspector Guy Lapointe basically by putting on an atrocious accent and entertaining every goofy actor whim he can invent. It is fashionable to hate Johnny Depp. It is also fashionable to hate Kevin Smith. So the idea of putting them together feels like a perfect storm for instant dismissal. I would be careful, however, because I feel a performance this strange takes real talent and kind of deserves to be seen. It’s special.
Furthermore, Tusk offers a scene where Johnny Depp’s mostly mentally handicapped inspector must interview Michael Parks, who pretends to be mentally handicapped to avoid arousing suspicion. This scene put my jaw on the ground for the sheer magnitude of its ridiculousness. Think about it: There is a guy out there making movies who absolutely does not know how to make movies. Yet he’s able to get both Johnny Depp and Michael Parks to jaw at each other as mentally challenged people for like five minutes. It’s the kind of thing that should not exist. But I got to see it, anyway.
This is a movie conceived by cackling stoners with clout enough to bring their casual, giddy Doritos ideas to fruition somehow. There are a ton of real filmmakers out there who will never get to make their masterpiece, and one can see how a film like Tusk almost mocks their struggles with its “who gives a shit” attitude. On the other hand, it is pretty awful, so maybe that’s its own revenge.