Kevin Smith’s Tusk is a refreshing achievement of style but may very well be a film for absolutely no one. The film follows Wallace (Justin Long) one half of the Not-See Podcast who flies solo to Canada in search of a story. When the original plan to interview/berate/degrade unfortunate internet sensation the ‘Kill Bill Kid’ fails due to his suicide, Wallace is desperate to make sure his trip wasn’t for nothing. He chases a hazy lead and a man named Howard Howe (Michael Parks) to a secluded mansion where exotic tales from a life at sea await. Then something fishy happens.
The plot works much better in context, and in this runs the risk of failing to engage your everyday movie-goer. The film came out of a conversation Smith and Scott Mosier had on their SModcast about a hoax gumtree.uk listing from a man offering free board to anyone willing to wear a walrus suit from time to time. The discussion went to surreal extremes and if you’re willing to go along and accept all of them you can drop your preconceptions about where the story should go. There is still a method to this madness and it lies in how the actual story-telling closely follows the style of a podcast. I’d go so far as to say that the difficulties critics have had placing this film comes down to the fact that it ignores genre and straight-up tells a story the way two cynical, film industry dudes on a podcast would. It’s unapologetic in its crassness, doubles back on itself and is in no rush to get a point across.
Unfortunately the tactless tone of SModcast doesn’t gel well with the polish of the film. The shots are well presented and at times the film elegantly combines sustained takes and a swelling score, but this grates against the heavy flow of potty humour. Wallace also appears to be Smith’s worst self, and this would be fine if he wasn’t so ridiculously unlikeable that he has zero redeeming characteristics. He ultimately fails as a character as the irony of Smith’s portrayal of a self-obsessed, overly-cynical and shallow podcaster will be missed by all but well-informed movie goers.
The film is exposition heavy yet not to a fault. Michael Parks’ soft-yet-gravelly-yet-beautiful blanket of a voice really nails his intensely self-aware dialogue which, at times, carries the film. In contrast, Long’s Wallace feels over-written with more dude-bro jokes than character. Others have pointed to Wallace as a reflection of Smith’s anxiety on his own over-reliance on voice and the wafer-thin personality people build from extreme extroversion, and while I can see shades of that, Wallace’s weakness never made me feel anything for him. Even when his situation was at its most dire. I was unable to relate, and ultimately I didn’t care about his fate.
The narrative arc of Howard was the best thing about the film, and the deviations into the sub-plot with Wallace’s girlfriend and his podcast partner, as well as that cameo that you’ll be researching after you see the film, felt unnecessary and under-written in comparison. Smith’s tone isn’t for everyone and it takes time for his slacker style to find the right step in this setting. If you’re willing to look past your expectations and let yourself be taken on a podcast-style narrative that free-wheels and oozes of irony, then there’s something to enjoy here. Forget genre, forget films and try not to get too grossed out.
2/5 walrus penis bones
Words by Lachlan Mackenzie