Tusk’s origin is fascinating to me, both as a podcaster (check out The Obsessive Viewer Podcast, by the way) and as a movie fan. On June 25th 2013, Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier recorded “The Walrus and the Carpenter“, an episode of their Smodcast podcast in which they stumbled into developing the movie that would become Tusk.
A year later Smith appeared on The Nerdist and talked about the process that went into developing the movie on the air and then creating it. Tusk is and always will be the first movie based off of a podcast. That’s something that is clearly a source of pride for Kevin Smith, as it should be. Unfortunately, I really wish the finished product was as strong as the story behind the scenes.
While stuck in Canada after an interview falls through, podcaster Wallace Bryton (Justin Long) finds an ad in a bar and decides to interview the person behind it. When Wallace gets to Howard Howe’s (Michael Parks) house, he soon finds out that the man has a different plan for him. Meanwhile in L.A., Wallace’s co-host Teddy (Haley Joel Osment) and girlfriend Ally (Genesis Rodriguez) search for the missing podcaster.
Tusk is a challenging movie to watch as it slogs through a poorly paced first act in which our main character is an unrepentant jerk. Wallace is stubborn toward his girlfriend, angry when a tragedy cancels his reason for traveling to Canada and just all around not a likable person. Adding insult to poor character traits is Justin Long’s half-hearted delivery of Kevin Smith dialogue that, itself, feels half-cocked and flat.
Michael Parks’ performance as a bat shit insane man hell-bent on transforming Wallace is enjoyable only in that Parks performs the character with a hint of self-awareness. There’s a cheekiness to his sadistic nature with the presumed intention of eliciting fear from the audience. Even still, it plays more for comedy and ultimately comes across as uninspired, especially when we’ve seen that both Smith and Parks are capable of creating a mentally unhinged sadistic villain in Red State.
On the home front, the subplot with the girlfriend and best friend is lame at best. There’s a dynamic established in the beginning of the movie involving two of the movie’s three central characters that’s inexplicably presented as a mystery. The situation has no payoff and only serves to make Wallace even more unlikable. I can’t imagine what Smith was hoping to accomplish by casting such a negative light on the character that the movie puts into the most physical and mental turmoil. The result is a complete disconnect between the audience’s ability to empathize with Wallace and the predicament Wallace finds himself in.
There’s a point about midway through the movie where the plot ramps up and we see the fruits of Parks’ twisted labor. Despite the negative character development and forgivably low-budget make-up effects, the turn proved effective and actually made me uncomfortable in the best way. Unfortunately, that feeling was undercut severely by the introduction of a French Canadian investigator whose services Ally and Teddy solicit.
The investigator (whose identity I won’t reveal in an effort not to spoil the surprise) would have been much more entertaining and palatable if I was watching a Wes Anderson movie. In the context of Tusk’s tone, however, it doesn’t fit and comes across as needlessly eccentric. Since the character is introduced more than halfway through the movie, it comes with a steep narrative and tonal shift that throws Tusk’s compromised pace into complete disarray.
Tusk is the beginning of Smith’s “True North” Trilogy. Unlike the “View Askewniverse” the characters that will crossover into the other movies feel out of place and flat. The investigator character, who will be in next year’s Yoga Hosers, is boring and just doesn’t work. The two girls (Harley Quinn Smith and Lily-Rose Melody Depp) in the convenience store added absolutely nothing to this movie besides stilted delivery void of wit and awkwardness in front of the camera that betrayed the characters’ slacker personas as written.
At the end of the day, you’re better off listening to the Smodcast episode that led to Tusk as Smith and Mosier improvise a much more entertaining story than what this movie ultimately has to offer. You can listen to it for free here.
The story of Tusk’s origin is important to note as it is the first movie created from a podcast. Its release adds weight to an already monumental year for the podcasting medium with the breakout hit Serial. According to Kevin Smith on The Nerdist, the quick turnaround and independence he felt while making Tusk has inspired him to do more projects like it. Through podcasting, he has breathed new life into his career and seems to have rediscovered the passion he has for his craft.
Even though I didn’t like Tusk, I respect the hell out of Kevin Smith for making it and I’m curious to seeing how the rest of his “True North” Trilogy shapes up. For now, I’m left with the hope that Smith will carve out a niche for himself with this method of filmmaking and inspire young filmmakers to follow suit.
Stream on Netflix – You might not regret watching this, but there’s a chance it’ll get buried in your Instant Queue.