SEPTEMBER 21, 2014
There's a scene in the 3rd season of Project Greenlight where Kevin Smith admits that he doesn't like horror movies, but after Red State and now Tusk, I think it's safe to assume he is basing his opinion on very few genre films, because it's abundantly clear that he doesn't know how to make one of his own. With a talented filmmaker one could see a movie like this and assume that the director wasn't beholden to the genre's "rules" and tropes because they were above them, but by his own admission Kevin Smith is not a talented filmmaker. An interesting one, sure, and he has displayed a unique voice as a writer, but it's clear he's just fucking around at this point, and I couldn't help but think that Tusk might actually have been better if he knew enough about horror movies to avoid cliches, or at least do something interesting with them.
For example, our hero (Justin Long) is summoned to an isolated house owned by a weird guy in a wheelchair (Michael Parks), who offers him tea when he arrives. Since the character is not British, the introduction of tea tells every single person who has ever seen a horror movie that it's poisoned and it won't be long before we see a POV shot of a blurred vision before Long slumps to the ground. But Kevin Smith either doesn't know that or thinks so little of his target audience that not only does Long exaggeratedly drink from the cup seemingly every time the director/editor cuts away from Parks (who is telling stories throughout this sequence), but he even has the actor specifically mention how unique the tea is and how it's nothing like he's ever had before. A more clever filmmaker might have used this as a ruse, making us smartypants horror fans THINK he was being drugged only for something else to happen, but no - eventually we see a POV shot of a blurred vision before Long slumps to the ground.
And thus I couldn't help but think - does Smith actually not even know how generic a device this is? Or is he mocking it, and if so, where is the laugh? The movie as a whole seems like a spoof of Human Centipede, with our lonely mad doctor creating a human/animal hybrid (in this case, a walrus) using at-home surgery, but if so Smith never bothers to let us know that - it's possible he hasn't even seen it. Is "inadvertent parody" a thing? He is clearly not above this brand of humor; the movie opens with a spoof of the infamous "Star Wars Kid" viral video (timely!) and one of his biggest hits was Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, which is ostensibly a sequel to Dogma and the other films but also loaded with ZAZ (late period ZAZ, I mean) level gags like Good Will Hunting 2 and a 4th Scream movie where the killer is a monkey (which, as it turns out, was a better surprise than the actual Scream 4 offered a decade later). Clearly, if he meant this to be a Centipede spoof there would be some specific reference to let us know that that was what he was doing, right?
Because the problem with the movie is that it simply isn't funny. A group of 20somethings sitting a row or two behind me were laughing at everything in the first few minutes, signaling that they were most likely part of his devout fanbase (and if you think he doesn't have very loyal fans, just bad-mouth him on Twitter and see what happens), but even they got pretty silent after a while. There are few discernible jokes in the film's 2nd half, and there's only one attempt at a scare scene in the entire movie (which actually works, believe it or not), involving Long's character trying to call his friends for help while Parks closes in on him, so if it's not a parody and not even much of a regular comedy, and it's certainly not a horror movie, what the hell is it?
However, there is a small chance you find the back half of the film very funny. To do so, you must appreciate the comic stylings of Guy Lapointe, played by an A-lister (not Ben Affleck, sadly) using a fake name and a disguise that might even prevent recognition, not unlike the folks who didn't realize the head of the studio in Tropic Thunder was Tom Cruise until his credit came up at the end. I admit I laughed at a couple of his lines, but as a whole his character and the performance are so grating I can't imagine how anyone would be completely enthralled by it even if they were just as big of a fan of this actor as they were of Smith. He's got a goofy accent, he acts like a 3rd rate USA network detective (all quirks, no character), and worse, he stops the movie cold and takes up the time that should be used on showing Wallace's transformation (yes, the guy who gets turned into a walrus is named Wallace. Because comedy.).
You see, among the movie's many other problems is that there's no second act, really - Wallace is a full human (minus a leg), and then the next time we see him he's completely engulfed by the makeshift walrus suit. Seeing stages of this transformation would have been interesting (at least, more interesting than watching _____ piss away more of the goodwill he's been squandering for a while now), but Smith denies us the chance to see how it even worked. Wallace's face is clearly shown in the walrus suit, but how much of his body is in there? Surely his lungs, heart, and other vital organs were kept intact, right? With Human Centipede we know exactly what was done, but here I spent a good chunk of the movie distracted, trying to figure out how exactly Parks' character was able to keep him alive through the surgery. I know I'm probably not supposed to care, but since Smith failed to provide anything worth caring about, I had to fill my head with SOMETHING.
To his credit, these monster scenes are obviously like nothing else in Smith's filmography, and Robert Kurtzman's FX are impressive (I love the various ears stitched around the walrus body). The introduction of the villain is riddled with fart jokes, so Smith clearly hasn't matured all that much, but he at least avoids too many cheap gags in the walrus scenes, and Parks is such a good actor that he manages to make this utterly ridiculous character into something of a tragic figure (he actually has a valid excuse for wanting to turn someone into a walrus, believe it or not). But Smith keeps retreating into comfortable territory, and our hero is too clearly based on himself - when Wallace boasts that his podcast and speaking engagements make him far more money than he ever made in the earlier part of his career, you will probably be able to hear your eyes rolling. But of course, he's also the most well-read podcaster in history, recognizing Hemingway quotes and such so we know he's also really smart. And, as always, his female lead is some sort of science fiction creation, a gorgeous woman who recognizes that our hero is a moron (and a two-timer, to boot) but will still happily blow him because she knows there's a good person in there somewhere, and we just have to take her word for it since all we've seen is how awful he is. This time the woman is played by Genesis Rodriguez, an impossibly attractive woman who, like her character, can and should be doing much better.
On the plus side, it's a step up from Red State, and Smith continues to improve as a director (or he's just hiring better DPs, either or), so there's something - he even tries to implement flashbacks to show us things we didn't see the first time, a new thing for him. The score is quite good and everyone except _____ turns in fine performances, so if nothing else it feels like a real movie, something even his much bigger budgeted Cop Out can't claim. And as annoying as _____ is, I couldn't help but kind of admire that a guy who gets 8 figure paychecks on the regular would dive right in and do something this wacky for a movie that cost 3 million bucks. But without any clear sense of what kind of movie he was making (the script was based on his stoned ramblings from an episode of his podcast, by the way), it never really comes to life, failing as a comedy and as a horror film. Maybe it IS a Human Centipede spoof, maybe it isn't - it doesn't matter. The point is, Human Centipede is actually funnier, and since he's clearly not interested in trying to scare us, there's something fundamentally broken here that makes Tusk nothing more than a curiosity at best.
What say you?