Featuring what is indisputably one of the year's most original premises and disputably some of the year's most nauseating make-up effects, Kevin Smith's Tusk opens this Friday for an exclusive engagement at the Cedar Lee.
Though the film is eventually irredeemable, for a while it's merely disgusting. And it even begins with a compelling horror story setup. We follow a mustachioed podcaster named Wallace Bryton (Justin Long) to the wilds of northern Manitoba where he intends to interview a curious recluse for a weekly comedy show. Cool so far. The recluse, a kooky, wheelchair-bound former seaman named Howard Howe (Red State's Michael Parks) recounts to Wallace, over tea, a tale of the Siberian high seas. Turns out that once, after the sinking of his vessel, Howe befriended a walrus on a nearby iceberg. Since then, he says, (as Wallace loses consciousness from the drugged tea!), he's been trying to re-create a man in the image of a walrus. Literally. Howe is 100-percent trying to turn a living man into a functioning, anatomically correct walrus.
Believe it or not, you still might be on board at this point, even after the surgical implements and Da Vincian flow charts make one or two horrific appearances. Both Long and Parks play their roles straight, and the Canadian Gothic atmospherics coupled with at least two scenes of dynamite tension give the film's first third a nice haunting vibe (if you're into that sort of thing).
But it's all dismantled the moment Johnny Depp arrives as a French-Canadian homicide detective of limited sanity to crack the case. Wallace's co-host (Haley Joel Osmont, five times as large as the paranormally acquainted boy he portrayed in The Sixth Sense) and Wallace's girlfriend (Genesis Rodriguez) are the ones who summoned him. He reports that he's been hunting this monster for some time. Evidently, the man called Howe has been luring men to isolated locales across Canada and turning them into walruses for years. Depp is beyond "over-the-top" here, obliterating the established tone and seeming to distract and continually annoy his scene partners.
What's more, Tusk then seems to take its cues directly from Depp. It descends into utter garbage territory, the walrus gag taken to such preposterous extremes that the ghastly reality is erased by the ridiculous visuals, i.e., Justin Long (as Walrus) humping the rocks of his torture-chamber habitat as he gargles and howls in tongue-less supplication.
Upon this mess, Smith has the audacity to impose a moral, and you're left speechless, sneering, wondering what in the name of Silent Bob ever happened to the director of Clerks.