I have to be honest here. I was predisposed to love this movie.
There are a number of reasons why, and I suppose you can take this review with a grain of salt, since I am admitting freely that I simply love the fact that this film even exists. It is a miracle of independent film-making that a movie about a deranged man transforming someone into a walrus is in my local theater, screening happily alongside the summer blockbusters.
Kevin Smith has long been one of my favorite directors, if only for the fact that since debuting with Clerks in 1994, he has consistently followed his own path. After making a series of great stoner comedies throughout the 90s, Smith seemed to lose his way in the early part of the 2000s. After an embarrassing attempt at a big budget buddy cop flick left him (and audiences) feeling empty, Smith was set to retire from film-making altogether. Then he took up a new hobby of smoking large quantities of high quality marijuana, and realized that he could and should be making the movies that he wanted to see.
Lucky for us, most of these ideas are deranged and tinged with horror. After impressively changing gears a few years back with the quick and dirty flick Red State, Smith subsequently lined up a whole roster of films he would love to create.
In fact, following Tusk, he has several other films and ideas in various stages of production, including a Krampus anthology and something he described as “Jaws with a moose.”
It is as if he is aiming to be the Roger Corman of the new millennium.
The simple fact that this idea went from an odd joke on one of Smith’s podcasts into a feature film in a little over a year should be incredibly inspiring to anyone who struggles with creativity. If you listen to the podcast, it sounds like a couple of friends sitting around the table talking shit and having some good laughs. The fact that they followed through with this crazy idea should be an inspiration to us all.
Another thing that makes this film unique is the fact that it is the first film to ever have an officially licensed marijuana tie-in. That’s right, here in the great state of California, Smith partnered with a very classy medical marijuana dispensary called Buds and Roses to produce two strains of herb to promote the film. The sativa strain was named “White Walrus” and the indica labeled as “Mr. Tusk”, and were available in limited quantities. I managed to get my hands on a gram of the White Walrus last night before the show, and it even came with a handy Tusk grinder!
Okay, so what about the movie.
After we fired up the White Walrus, a gimmick equatable to putting on the 3D glasses before the new Spider-Man flick, everyone in my group was feeling happy and excited to watch the Walrus movie.
Justin Long plays a slightly mean-spirited podcaster from Los Angeles named Wallace, who takes a trip to the frozen tundra of Canada to further humiliate a young man who has accidentally cut off his own leg in front of the whole wide internet. When it turns out this subject is unavailable he follows a trail that leads him to another eccentric weirdo, Howard Howe, played by the hypnotic Michael Parks.
The first third of the movie works in the atmospheric old school tradition of the classic Hammer films, as the two share drinks and swap stories in Howe’s creepy old mansion. The tension built up here is great, and Michael Parks could mesmerize anyone by simply reading his grocery list, but let’s face it, we all know that Long is going to end up as a walrus.
I mean, that is the spectacle we came to see.
And that is the main problem with the film. It’s scope is very limited, and there is only so much of the preposterous transformation that can be shown, so we get bogged down with sub-plots and offbeat characters to fill out the running time.
Especially a certain uncredited actor who has made a career playing “offbeat characters” who gets the spotlight for an inordinate amount of time right in the middle of the film, grinding it to a halt. Take away the sub-plot about Wallace’s girlfriend and best friend desperately tracking him down and the mumbling presence of bounty hunter Guy Lapointe, and audiences are left with only a few scenes of the good old gory walrus action we all came to see.
To be fair, those scenes are fantastic, and the sight of Long going “full walrus” is an image that will surely be burnt into the consciousness of audiences everywhere. The effects by Robert Kurtzman are grotesque and hilarious at the same time, and the punchline at the end of the film is worth the whole journey.
Over all, Tusk is a bizarre addition to the filmography of Kevin Smith, and a unique horror comedy. The film is not perfect, but it is definitely worth a watch. Get out to your local theater this weekend and support this kind of insanity at the movies! We need more madness at the multiplex, so help prove to the powers that be that there is an audience for experimental independent films made by stoned weirdos.
“Chase every dopey dream you ever have, so long as it doesn’t involve hurting or killing anybody.”
- Kevin Smith