I have an unusual relationship with Kevin Smith’s films. I respect his ability to stay true to himself and how unapologetic he is to let his nerdiness and hipster slackness shine through in every movie he makes, but I’ve started to notice that as time passes and his movies are given additional views, they don’t always hold up very well. I remember loving films like Dogma and Chasing Amy for how they challenged the audience to think about its themes in a different way, but after thinking about them for a while, I found the overall message of both movies to not be as progressive as they fancied themselves to be. The more I thought about them, the more vehemently I disagreed with the lesson they were trying to teach and began to lose respect for Smith. What is the basic message of each movie?
Here’s my problem with Kevin Smith as a writer and director; his approach and apparent position on issues like these are far too juvenile for to take him seriously. The one time he defied my expectations was with Red State. While the premise was a little extreme, it wasn’t beyond the realm of plausibility if certain religious fundamentalist groups followed their scripture to the letter of the law and also had access to their own personal arsenal. I enjoyed that movie because it makes the audience feel uncomfortable with the idea of the lengths people will go to when they develop a strong enough sense of entitlement. (Plus it didn’t hurt to have brilliant performances from Michael Parks, Melissa Leo and John Goodman.) So when I went to see Tusk, another Smith film starring Parks and featuring Johnny Depp, I was expecting to see more of the mature Kevin Smith. Did I get that? Well…not really.
Without spoiling anything, I’ll first explain what worked well. Again, Michael Parks turns in another chilling and powerful performance, and for the first time in a few years now, Johnny Depp actually appeared to be having fun with a role he was playing, and he had me in stitches every time he was on screen.
As a comedy/horror, it works both elements pretty well, although I’d say that the horror elements are much stronger. There are some genuinely funny moments with Johnny Depp, Justin Long and a great cameo from Epic Meal Time’s Harley Morenstein.
The suspenseful moments are especially strong due to the piss-your-pants-in-terror performance from Michael Parks. While watching his scenes, they began to feel reminiscent of Ted Levine’s psychotic performance as Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs. In fact, based on the film’s plot and tone—in certain scenes, that is—I wouldn’t be surprised if Kevin was attempting to make his own version of Silence of the Lambs.
Now we look at the points where this film fell down for me.
As I hinted at a moment ago, the film’s tone is pretty inconsistent. It goes from goofball comedy to dramatic life story to suspenseful thriller to love triangle back to suspenseful thriller to dry humor to violent action and ends tragically with a conclusion that I couldn’t tell was meant to be sincere or sarcastic. However, I stuck around until the end of the credits, and during the last third of the text crawl, the film’s score is replaced by audio from Kevin Smith’s podcast. On the webcast, he and his co-host are laughing about the plot of the film’s conclusion—presumably before the movie was made—and are discussing how so-bad-it’s-good this kind of movie would be. That pissed me off.
With all of the crazy and macabre things that happen in the film—many of them very dramatic if taken seriously—end up as one big joke. That’s right; Kevin Smith is trolling the audience with this movie. If the tone was comedic all the way through, it wouldn’t have bothered me because it would let the audience know that it’s okay to laugh, but so many other scenes are played straight and played well that the joke undermines the severity of abuse victims developing mental illnesses and repeating the cycle upon others. I’m sorry Kevin, but that isn’t funny.
Overall, Tusk is worth at least one view to see a few good moments from some talented people, but be warned; the whole movie ends up being a mostly unfunny joke with haunting imagery you’ll never be able to unsee.