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Film Review: Tusk 

Tusk / C+

Kudos for staging a pool-side showdown to Fleetwood Mac's trippy, cocaine-driven march "Tusk." But how do you miss including a reference to The Beatles' "I Am The Walrus?" There's not even a passing "coo-coo-ca-choo."

Kevin Smith's Tusk started as a podcast joke and, frankly, it feels like just that, a half-assed, absurdist horror flick idea that's funnier to talk about than to watch. Like a cross between Misery and a sarcastic version of The Human Centipede, the always likable filmmaker's motor-mouthed shocker can't decide whether it wants to revel in snark farce or deliver a tragic tale of ironic comeuppance.

Justin Long is Wallace Bryton, a popular L.A. podcaster who, with his best pal Teddy (Haley Joel Osment), viciously skewers hapless celebrity wannabees. When a Manitoba teen accidentally slices off his leg while making a YouTube video, Wallace flies to Winnipeg to interview (eg. make fun) of him. Things don't work out as planned and the shock jock unwittingly meets up with Howard Howe (Tarantino mainstay Michael Parks), a weirdo serial killer who surgically transforms his victims into walruses. Meanwhile Teddy and Wallace's girlfriend Allison (Genesis Rodriguez in a thankless role) team up with Québécois detective Guy Lapointe (Johnny Depp in one of the worst-kept uncredited surprises of the year) to come to his rescue.

In many ways Tusk is Smith's most confidently shot film to date, handsome for its $2.9 million budget and boasting a convincingly menacing tone. And Parks is a great choice, fully committing to Howe's lunatic agenda with a mix of upper crust pomp and deranged inhumanity. But the movie has no real ideas, just its one-joke premise. Smith can't muster a credible sense of suspense or surprise, even as Wallace is transformed into effects guru Robert Kurtzman's disturbingly freakish creature.

There's plenty of the director's trademark mix of low brow and literate chit-chat, a few tongue-in-cheek laughs and few too many lame jabs at Canadian culture (hockey and aboot? Really?). In the end, Tusk is more watchably weird than good.

Tusk opens Friday, September 17. It's rated R and has a run time of 102 minutes.

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October 28, 2020

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