USA, Canada, 2014. D: Kevin Smith
Reviewed by Greg Goodsell
Odious radio shock jock Wallace Bryton (Justin Long), of the “Not-See Party” (get it?) plans a trip to Canada in order to interview the subject of an Internet viral video. Said notorious clip depicts a nerdy teen demonstrating his Samurai sword skills, accidentally slicing a leg off in the process! Taking the trip solo to the Great White North, Bryton finds that the teen has taken his own life out of humiliation. Hating to go home empty-handed, Bryton takes note of an ad posted in a bar restroom. An eccentric old recluse, Howard Howe (Michael Parks) is looking for someone to share his mansion for free room and board, adding that he has interesting life experiences to share for that special someone. Bryton takes the bait, and meets up with Howe at his rural, gloomy manse. Regaling Bryton with his experiences as a young sailor, Howe has drugged his guest's drink. When Bryton next wakes he finds himself bound to a wheelchair – and one of his legs has been amputated (in bizarre retribution for the planned exploitation of his suicidal interview subject)! Howe informs him that the happiest time of his life was when he survived a shipwreck and was lovingly cared for by a male walrus who kept him from the cold by concealing him in his blubber. Long is to become a human walrus, following extensive, homemade surgery ….
|Meet Wallace the Walrus|
Transformed into a hulking, barely mobile human walrus after Parks' handiwork – a truly horrific and hilarious makeup effect, chillingly achieved by Robert Kurtzman, Bryton is kept in a macabre aquarium where he soon learns that other would-be houseguests have fallen prey to Parks' brutal ministrations. In the meantime, Bryton’s radio cohort Teddy Craft (Haley Joel Osment) and Bryton’s girlfriend Ally (Genesis Rodriguez) enlist the aid of an alcoholic French-Canadian detective Guy LaPointe (Johnny Depp in a delightful bit of dialectical comedy on par with Peter Sellers) who has encountered similar, perplexing unsolved murders. The trio, after a successful series of deductive reasoning close in on Howe’s mansion – will they be able to save their friend in time?
|Oh well, I guess I'll have to start all over|
TUSK tanked at the U.S. box office. It played most theaters for a week, barely advertised, and skipped the second-run movie houses altogether in most cities. Many people when hearing of the premise, were quick to write it off as “HUMAN CENTIPEDE (2009), except this time the victim is turned into a walrus.” It's nowhere near that simple. The film's storyline takes on many complex shadings.
|Big Gulps, now in blubber flavor|
While frequently hilarious, TUSK makes the audience think twice before every chuckle. The ostensible hero, Long, is an unrepentant asshole. The most famous quote to emerge from the film is his plea “I don't want to die in Canada!” We've all laughed at YouTube videos where people are injured – “MAJOR FAIL!” – not thinking of the pain and injury suffered by the unlucky subjects. To paraphrase Mel Brooks, “Tragedy is you falling down a manhole: Comedy is me watching you fall down a manhole.” Director and writer Kevin Smith isn't letting the audience off the hook that easily, and all the laughs taken at the expense of others is literally taken out in flesh.
|Remember kids, don't laugh, because you too could end up a human walrus!|
Michael Parks performance as the mad surgeon is Oscar worthy. Perpetually kind and apologetic, his intentions are solely to create a friend for himself. His genteel manner doesn't crack once through the entire film, making for a profoundly unnerving character. There's more than just a little hint of homo-eroticism going on behind his eccentric proclivities, and the setup calls to mind the popular fetish as practiced by “furries” and “fursuiters.” Google those terms …
|Parks as the Right Wing maniac preacher in Red State|
Director Smith has dabbled in horror before. His RED STATE (2011) took a caustic look at small-minded provincialism as practiced in small town America. Smith digs into a dark chapter of Canadian modern history to explain some of Parks' motivations.
|If you like this then you'll love Mortdecai|
Johnny Depp is quite good as the detective, although it’s notable his performance is in the service of yet another box office flop with his name attached to it. Few people have forgiven Depp for THE LONE RANGER (2013) debacle of several seasons ago, and with the exception of Tim Burton's ALICE IN WONDERLAND (2010), Depp's recent films have underperformed at the box office: THE RUM DIARY (2011), DARK SHADOWS (2012), TRANSCENDENCE (2014) et cetera.
TUSK, as hard as it is to believe, was based on an actual gag advertisement placed on Craig's List! The advertisement described a man looking for a roommate, with free room and board with the stipulation that the boarder spend two hours a day in costume and in character in a walrus suit. This story is related in the Blu-Ray and DVD extra entitled “Smodcast #259: The Walrus and the Carpenter.” Smith calls the phony advertisement as pure “Hammer Horror” and laughs uproariously throughout. This extra, presented with video-generated animation, unfortunately links Smith to his main character, who likewise found it perverse enough for widespread media coverage. Other extras on the Lionsgate disc are deleted scenes, “20 Years to Tusk” featurette, a brief making of documentary, and an audio commentary track with Smith.
|Sung to the tune of "A Chorus Line", "One Singular sensational-Walrus"|
TUSK is far better than many people's expectations. It has painfully funny comments to make on our anything-for-a-laugh media landscape, as well as some stately Gothic horror, truly in the manner of Terrence Fisher's “Hammer horrors.” As if it needs to be said, a certain Fleetwood Mac hit single comes wafting through in a climactic scene. See TUSK – you won't regret it.