Notes on “Tusk”

Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:

tusk-movie-posterIn “Tusk,” writer-director Kevin Smith burrows deep into a hole of self-loathing and misanthropy. He’s beating up on the digital age, on young people, on hip callowness: the movie plays like the howl of a onetime wunderkind who’s become resigned to his place on the pile of mass-cultural indifference. This kind of biliousness has nested in Smith’s work throughout his career, and it’s certainly made itself felt in his private life (all those public explosions), and there’s something refreshing — almost relieving — about watching it geyser up in a noxious plume. It’s the kind of biliousness that springs from one’s soul.

The plot, partially borrowed from “The Human Centipede,” concerns a Hollywood wannabe who’s kidnapped and surgically mutilated until he resembles a walrus. (The fuming moralism, as well as the ironical metamorphosis, suggest “Freaks.”) It’s unexpected territory for Smith, but he finds a way to impose his talents on the premise: the movie is filled with stories delivered in voluminous dialog. At times it’s like a riff on “My Dinner with Andre,” though (somewhat disappointingly?) Smith declines to commit to his incipient narratives. He clips them off just as they begin to suggest themselves.

There’s perverse pleasure to be found in watching Justin Long (perfectly cast) being carved into the shape of a marine mammal. In a couple of beats he’s transformed from a glib Fraggle into a bloated something that looks like a cross between Tim Burton’s Penguin and, well, Kevin Smith. Without a tongue, Long can’t tell you he’s a Mac, can’t even tell you he’s a walrus. He just squeals like a confused pig. It’s Smith’s revenge on superficiality, on talkers, on himself.

The movie is about a half-hour too long (at heart it’s a “Twilight Zone” episode), and it runs into tonal trouble near its end: in trying to be both funny and disturbing, it succeeds in being neither. But perhaps its biggest problem is Johnny Depp, who turns up in the final third as an idiotically grotesque Canadian detective. Smith wastes an inordinate amount of time on Depp: his camera languishes on him, waiting for some effusion of starlight that never comes. When did Depp decide he was Peter Sellers? Someone tell him he isn’t, or turn him into a walrus before he tries it again.

About Fabrizio del Wrongo

Recovering liberal arts major. Unrepentant movie nut. Aspiring boozehound.
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1 Response to Notes on “Tusk”

  1. plwinkler says:

    Perhaps not disturbing, but repulsive and unpleasant for sure. The monolugue Michael Parks delivers before he begins to alter Long is quite something, as is Parks, an underutilized actor who deserves better.


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