October 29th 2014 03:37
When podcaster Wallace Bryton (Justin Long) slinks into the Canadian night in search of tall tales to fill the void left by his initial subject who has died most inopportunely, he has no idea what fate awaits him. A wheelchair bound, salty old dog Howard Howe (Michael Parks) is bursting with sagas of the sea he'd love to unload upon any curious and patient ear. Too bad that Bryton likes Mr. Howe’s tea because his ingestion of cup after poisoned cup, combined with the alluringly colourful tales that accompany each serve, soon sees his wavering out of consciousness. Upon regaining his faculties, Bryton discovers, to his horror, that his body has been ‘tampered’ with and the nightmare intentions of Mr. Howe are becoming a little more transparent. An ungodly transformation into the very same beast of the sea that once saved Howe’s life is imminent.
It sounds like a potential cross between H.G. Wells and the early body horror of David Cronenberg, but Tusk (2014), the new and unlikely film by Kevin Smith is far less serious in its intent and impossible to ratify. Ultimately, this is mostly thanks to an embarrassingly pointless big star entering the fray incognito as manhunter Guy Lapointe and stopping the film’s momentum dead in its tracks. The third act thus becomes a farce, undoing all the fine work of the set-up in which there is so much to enjoy. The unevenness is certainly endearingly Smithian in its slightly wonky execution, and Long if nobody else seems to be having fun with the possibilities of playing a borderline prick straying out of his element whilst rubbing Canadian faces in an impression of their own backwardness. But then the already overreaching premise of the film extends to its high point before blindly stumbling into a series of cul-de-sacs from which escape is impossible. Despite the gross outlandishness of select scenes, it’s clear that Smith is moving uncomfortably within a genre he has no real grasp of as anything other than as a devoted fan.
When Tusk finally staggers from tediousness to outright silliness, even the support players visibly lose interest in their roles. Unforgivably, Smith allows his star - an actor with whom the term 'hackdom' is quickly becoming synonymous - to hijack the film, sending it whirling headlong into an inglorious crash and burn. Former child star Haley Joel Osmont as Bryton’s best mate and fellow podcaster Teddy Craft, and Genesis Rodriguez as the girlfriend who can’t even stand the new improved, successful asshole version of Bryton anyway, both get to hang out in the margins as Smith’s trump card takes centre stage. Even Parks gets railroaded into participating in some especially silly shenanigans, including the film’s lowest point – a flashback scene that shows the lone previous coming together of Howe and the moronic Lapointe. It’s cringeworthy stuff and though Smith is to be admired for straying from his often blandly comic roots, just as he did – far more successfully and dynamically - with the recent Red State (2011), he needed a far sturdier premise to keep this shaggy dog tale afloat down the stretch.