I am in full support of making movies as bizarre as possible just for the sake of letting them exist. In that regard, I like the story of how Tusk was conceived and made from a podcast and Twitter. It sure beats another comic book or teen lit movie, but I still have to evaluate Tusk on its own merits. Surprisingly, I checked out of Tusk during its comedic segments, which should be writer/director Kevin Smith’s strengths.
Wallace (Justin Long) is a podcaster who goes to Canada to interview the subject of an embarrassing video. When that doesn’t pan out, he sees a bulletin board sheet from a local offering stories to tell. Pursuing that lead, Wallace meets Howard Howe (Walter Parkes), an engaging, charismatic man who ultimately takes Wallace prisoner.
I mean, if you followed Kevin Smith at all or the Twitter #WalrusYes hashtag, you know Howe’s plan is to turn Wallace into a walrus. The horror parts are actually all done right. The pace, the dread, the buildup, revealing the walrus, maintaining a living human sized walrus and showing him in reflections. It’s just Wallace’s entire character and every cutaway from his ordeal is trying too hard to be funny, which is both counterproductive and a failure on the comedy level.
I’m shocked too because Red State was a very intense straight horror. It had its moments of humor, misdirects and tension breakers, but it wasn’t pervasive. Wallace just cannot stop talking, and he’s not even making jokes. He’s just interrupting Howe by restating what Howe just told him. In that regard, he’s such an A-hole that you thank Howe for shutting him the hell up finally.
We’re not totally saved from Wallace’s douchey mouth though because there are still flashbacks, one of which may reveal some on the nose self-loathing from the writer/director. Wallace complains that before he was a podcasting star, he used to make bad Star Wars puns and couldn’t pay his bills. But as far as we know, Wallace did not parlay that obsession into a series of beloved movies that put all his Star Wars knowledge to good use before launching his podcast empire.
The fact that they’re podcasters at all is too much. Yes, this story came from a podcast, but couldn’t they be anything else? Smith has been talking about how he was about to give up filmmaking because he doesn’t have life experience like informed Clerks and Chasing Amy, but he realized he could just make stories up. Making up a story about a podcaster who gets himself in trouble is too much of a distraction.
It’s also very presumptuous. Wallace stays to pursue the Howe story because he just can’t go home empty handed. My God, how deprived would his legions of listeners feel if they didn’t have another brilliant Wallace Bryton interview to hear? Although, that’s more a fault that the film fails to establish Wallace as the success he keeps claiming to be. His cohost Teddy (Haley Joel Osment) cracks up hysterically at everything Wallace says, because otherwise how else would we know how awesome Wallace is? They call their podcast the Not-See podcast, just so they can make more jokes about having to explain to people it’s not the “Nazi” podcast, which is presumably the reason they named it that in the first place.
It also feels derivative. The video Wallace pursues in the first place is a spoof of The Star Wars Kid. That’s already a very dated reference, and are we really still going back to that well? Canadian jokes are even worse. When South Park makes fun of Canada they’re sort of making fun of how there’s nothing offensive about Canada in the first place. Puns like Canados and Canadont’s are where it starts, and it’s downhill from there.
Genesis Rodriguez feels like she’s giving a sincere performance as Wallace’s girlfriend, Ally, playing up her complexities even though the script treats her like Wallace’s reward for being so awesome. So yeah, she’s conflicted, but there’s still a scene where Wallace both praises her blow jobs and chastises her for not giving him more blow jobs. Subsequent monologues revealing why she’s stayed in that unhealthy relationship don’t quite feel like they grasp what would give a woman such low self-esteem.
Ally and Teddy team up with a Canadian investigator, Guy LaPointe (I’ll just play along and say it’s Guy LaPointe as himself, like the credits do), who actually makes scenes even worse. The balance between comedy and drama was already off, but total caricature does not help. There is a flashback scene between LaPointe and Howe that’s total nonsense. It’s not just a tonal issue though. Guy LaPointe wouldn’t make sense as a character in the Quik Stop either. Guy LaPointe is a rejected sketch character Lorne Michaels wouldn’t allow on SNL.
Anyway, I don’t think this is what we agreed to when we tweeted #WalrusYes. Weird is good but it should still be tonally consistent. Yet the takeaway should not be that we should not get movie ideas from podcasts. This is purely about execution. We’re in pioneer territory, the wild west, and one of that means a gold rush is coming. Maybe James Cameron will make the ultimate podcast movie and show everyone how it’s done.