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Thursday, December 24, 2015

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Tusk

Here we go again on Fishing in the Discount Bin, my weekly ramble about one of the movies I own.  We get to one of my favourite directors, and his most recent opus, Tusk.  This is originally in my notes at March 8, 2015.

I love Kevin Smith.  Haven't done a lot of his movies here in this blog, though, because I keep wanting to plow through his whole career in some kind of big retrospective.  The 2010's have been an interesting decade for Smith so far.  After his meltdown at the state of Hollywood, deciding to independently produce and release his action thriller Red State, he drifted away from the movie business, adopting a new role as writer, podcaster, television personality, and all around entertainer.  That being said, he always said he probably had one more movie in him.  It was going to be his hockey epic Hit Somebody.  Then it was going to be Clerks III.  Then he finally accepted that filmmaking is one of the many facets of entertainment that he still works in, and that he'll only make a movie if it's an idea that he's truly passionate about...an idea that he feels that only he can bring to the silver screen. 

And the movie that kicked off this new philosophy was Tusk.

It was an idea for a movie hatched on his original podcast, SModcast, the episode The Walrus and the Carpenter to be specific.  Many of Smith's listeners sent him a link to an ad on Gumtree (a UK version of Kijiji), about a man looking for a lodger in his home.  You can stay in the man's home rent free, on the condition that you wear a walrus costume for 2 hours a day, and spend that time acting as a walrus.  As Smith and his podcasting partner Scott Mosier began discussing and riffing on this story, Smith realized that it sounded like a set-up to a horror movie.  "The cuddlier version of The Human Centipede" he called it in his podcast.  Smith fell in love with the idea, and sat down at his computer to start drafting the script for Tusk.  Wondering how far he should take this, Smith turned to Twitter and asked his fans and followers to tweet the hashtag "#walrusyes" if he should actively pursue making it as a movie, or "#walrusno" if he should give up on this flight of fancy.  With only one single, solitary "#walrusno," and thousands of votes for "#walrusyes," Smith began shopping the script around Hollywood as a low-budget horror movie, he got the financing lined up, and Tusk became a reality. 

Our hero is a failed stand-up comic named Wallace.  He and his partner Teddy have recently found fame with a podcast called The Not-See Party, in which Wallace travels across the country meeting and interviewing interesting folks, and then telling Teddy about the interviews.  Most of Wallace and Teddy's podcasts grow quite caustic, as they wind up relentlessly mocking Wallace's interview subjects.  One who doesn't like Wallace's new direction is his girlfriend Ally, who thinks that Wallace's new approach is making him cold and cruel.  Things come to a head as Wallace leaves for Winnipeg to interview a viral video star known as "The Kill Bill Kid," a young man who accidentally cut off his own leg playing with a samurai sword. 

Wallace arrives in Winnipeg to find that the Kill Bill Kid has committed suicide.  Not wanting to come back from Canada empty-handed, Wallace discovers an ad on a bar's bulletin board, offering free lodgings in exchange for a willing body to hear tales of seafaring adventure.   Wallace tracks down the man, Howard Howe, and while appearing genial at first, it soon becomes apparent that Howe's intentions are more sinister.  For you see, Howe was once shipwrecked on a deserted island, his only companion being a walrus he named Mr. Tusk.  With that incident leading Howe to believe that the walrus is more noble than man, Howe seeks to re-create Mr. Tusk by surgically altering Wallace into a walrus. 

The first half of this film is some great psychological horror, as Wallace and Howe have some intense conversations, and Howe begins simply enough by amputating Wallace's legs.  There's also some intensely dramatic stuff, as we see the toll this podcast is starting to have on Wallace and Ally's relationship.  Genesis Rodriguez, who plays Ally (and who I also thought was incredibly adorable as the voice of Honey Lemon in Big Hero 6) actually gives this rather intense monologue about how Wallace is changing and becoming more cruel and how her father would hate her for putting up with a scumbag of a man if her father was still alive.  It's great stuff. 

This being Smith, with his trademark witticisms, the movie actually does a pretty good job of straddling the line between comedy and horror up until a point.  But when things go "full walrus," and Wallace wakes up to find he's now the body of a walrus, the movie delves into pure ridiculousness.  I just could not take it seriously as that homemade walrus looks so ridiculous. 

No, wait.  I think the film truly descends into ridiculousness when Johnny Depp shows up as Guy Lapointe...a former Quebec provincial police detective, who now works as a private eye and has been trying to apprehend Howe for years.  Depp provides us with another oddball character that's become his hallmark in recent years, as he gives Lapointe a comically bad French Canadian accent, a beret, and a nose that looks like a penis.  We have a flashback to two years ago, when Lapointe came face-to-face with Howe, and the scene becomes a pure farce as Depp and Michael Parks (the actor playing Howe) take turns chewing the scenery, seeing who can adopt the goofier accent and just be the quirkier character. 

It also doesn't help when you're a fan of Kevin Smith's many podcasts, and the film is peppered with many subtle references and in-jokes to the many recurring bits across his podcasts.  The tension is always broken when you hear a phrase like "Ponder Rock." 

I think the best movie to liken this to is Gremlins.  For a lot of it, you don't know whether you should be laughing or screaming.  I went with "laughing" for most of it.  Between that walrus costume and Johnny Depp...there's just so much to laugh at. 

At the end of the day, though, I did enjoy it.  It's nice to see Smith busting out of his mold and trying something new.  Smith said he always knew this film would be destined for cult classic status and, yeah, I can see it heading there. 

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