Say what you will about Kevin Smith, his new movie Tusk really blows the lid off this whole Canada thing. Aboot. Eh. Syrup. Poutine. French people. Hockey. Have you seen this? Have you heard about this? It’s like he’s invented a whole new kind of comedy. Manitoba. Isn’t that a funny word, Chet, “Manitoba?” Man, why hasn’t anyone put these penetrating insights into movie form before.
Look, lots of people like everything Kevin Smith does, and I have nothing against those people other than the vague suspicion that they were dropped on their heads as babies. I liked Dogma. A couple of his other movies are decent. Anyway, for those of us who are only visitors to Smodnation, I’ll put it this way: If you think things like a convenient store called the “Eh 2 Zed,” a big gulp knockoff called a “Chug Eh Lug,” a restaurant called “Poutiney Weenie,” Johnny Depp in a beret, people with funny names who play hockey, the phrase “BM in the PM’s coffee,” – if those are things that are funny to you and not things that make you want to groan for an hour, then it’s possible that you may enjoy Kevin Smith’s new film Tusk.
For me, it was like watching him stretch five minutes of already-dubious material into 100 and discover a fourth grader’s grasp of Canada humor along the way. C-eh! D-eh! N-eh! OH MY SIDES, THE MOOSE IS DRIVING THE ZAMBONI.
So Justin Long plays a podcaster who goes to Canada to meet an old seaman who ends up turning him into a walrus. That’s the whole story. I’d say spoiler alert, but anyone who knows anything about this project already knows that’s the story. It was “smadapted” from a “smidea” Kevin Smith smad smon smone of his smodcasts. And the movie still feels sorta like a podcast. A few specs of content wrapped in wads and wads of asinine digression. About 90 percent of the scenes don’t really need to be there at all. They’re sort of like side conversations. Johnny Depp shows up halfway into the movie as Guy Lapointe (pronounced Gee LaPwont, because he’s French, get it?), the detective who’s been tracking Old Man Walrus F*cker. I use the term “tracking” loosely, because he literally stops to get a hamburger in the middle of his investigation. Oh but don’t worry, Johnny Depp is wearing a silly outfit and he eats in a silly manner and the people at the burger place all have silly accents and the burgers are named silly things because Canada. Now smat’s smhat smI small smomedy!
I guess if you truly enjoy an entertainer, you don’t mind seeing him improvise and stretch his material, but for me it felt like “knock knock” and then 90 minutes of armpit farts before “who’s there?” Hey, Kevin, stop riding a unicycle and finish the joke!
The frustration of it all is that there is a germ of a good idea somewhere in here, buried underneath 10 layers of bong resin and discarded jort legs. There’s one brief scene depicting Justin Long’s podcast – a stupid impression followed by Long’s sidekick, Haley Joel Osment laughing for an uncomfortably long period of time, the laughter of quiet desperation. As a podcaster, it hit close to home. And you could detect in it a kernel of honest self-examination. If Kevin Smith had been in a more reflective mood, I could see there being something there. Instead, the vaguely self-reflexive, ever-so-slightly self-critical podcaster stuff is crudely sewn together with this walrus story, which I could see making an awesome short if it had consisted of the two or three minutes at the beginning and end of the movie without everything in between; and Smith’s newfound fascination with the Wikipedia entry for “Canada.” Johnny Depp repeats the name “Gregory Gumtree,” a hockey player for the Quebec Nordiques, at least 11 times, presumably because Kevin Smith found the notion of a hockey player named “Gregory Gumtree” high-larious. Holy sh*t, man, these references make Slap Shot and Strange Brew seem cutting edge, and those came out in 1977 and 1983, respectively (both great, incidentally). You’d think a guy who hasn’t appeared in public wearing anything but a hockey jersey since the 1990s would’ve come to this revelation sooner.
Mostly though, Tusk is the kind of movie that makes you want to stage an intervention. This movie could not possibly appeal to anyone outside the Smodbubble. There are a few interesting things in it, but it’s just so… so… ponderous. Sitting through it was a truly excruciating experience. Not everything deserves to be stretched, expanded, pontificated, and riffed on, and part of being a storyteller is knowing the difference. Despite the occasional or congenital faults, I used to think Kevin Smith understood this. These days I’m not so sure.