Movie fans know all too well that you have to wade through a lot of disappointment to find the good stuff. And it’s not always some binary pile-sorting of "good movies" and "bad movies"; sometimes there’s quality material smack in the middle of the muck. Say Something Nice is dedicated to those gems - memorable, standout, even great moments from movies that...well, aren’t.
Tusk is emblematic of post-Red State, pot’n’podcasts Kevin Smith. It suffers from the same issue as its follow-up Yoga Hosers: it's all a fucking joke to its director. If it were merely a jokey, hokey creature feature - which it is - that'd be one thing. But the film's closing credits, which play under the podcast in which a cackling Smith tosses off the film's concept and calls it the dumbest thing ever, frame the movie as a colossal piss-take. In one fell stroke, Smith renders the entire film an insult to its audience and to his own earnest indie roots. Anyone who's struggled to get a passion project made has a right to be offended at the way Smith casually shit out this quarter-assed, directionless monstrosity. He made a big deal about “starting from scratch” after Red State’s critical drubbing, but nobody starts from scratch when they have a household name, a millions-strong army of fanchildren, and a film in the Criterion Collection.
I don't want to spend too long disparaging the movie. But these issues are important when introducing the one scene I truly loved in Tusk. The film hasn’t had a chance yet to suck the air out of its horror with overlit, poorly-shot creature, or to kill its pacing with endless flashbacks and cutaways, or to destroy whatever was left of Johnny Depp’s credibility with grating Quebecois caricature Guy Lapointe. It’s got some audience goodwill left. I, for one, wanted Smith to succeed with his horror-comedy experiment, and this scene gave me hope he might actually do his bizarre concept justice.
We cut in the morning after Justin Long's douchebag podcaster Wallace first meets with Michael Parks’ reclusive psycho Howard, who feeds him drugged tea and regales him with stories of Hemingway and walruses. Wallace wakes up to quite a discovery:
Wallace’s slow-motion realisation of his circumstances, still only half-conscious from the tea and tranquilisers, is paced perfectly, leading up to a reveal that, while not as shocking as Smith’s crash-zoom implies, is hilarious to an audience that saw this coming all along. We always knew the tea was drugged. We know exactly how this scenario was going to play out. Long’s performance is terrific, every bit the chucklefuck as he swiftly swings from credulous bemusement to panicked terror. Meanwhile, Parks’ erudite monologuing slowly gives way to stifled laughter, as he lies through his teeth to his anaesthetised captive. It’s funny and genuinely unsettling all at once.
Given the rest of the movie (especially its middle finger of a credits sequence), I’m not convinced Smith was fully aware of why this scene worked when he shot it. Viewed through the lens of Tusk as a whole, the scene leans heavily on “look at the dopey dude” comedy; Parks’ giggling could arguably be said to mirror Smith’s own. But Smith’s “isn’t this ridiculous” attitude actually serves the story in this scene. Long’s half-amused, half-terrified reaction is an entirely believable one, to which anyone who’s been anaesthetised can attest, and for this one moment, it is absolutely correct for the film to careen along the self-aware, silly/serious path it does. At this point, at least, we haven't literally been told it's all the filmic equivalent of a jerk-off gesture.
Enjoy that scene, friends - just don’t click through to watch the whole movie.