I suppose there is some kind of H.P. Lovecraftian message tucked away, deep inside “Tusk’s” jaded little heart but director Kevin Smith doesn’t bother to unearth it. Instead he’s content to make poutine jokes.
Based on an idea evolved from Episode 259 of Smith’s SModcast about a internet star and a seafarer with a thing for walruses, the movie begins with Wallace Bryton (Justin Long) travelling from Los Angeles to Manitoba to interview a subject for his popular podcast. When that interview falls through he finds another guest, a mysterious old sailor named Howard Howe (Michael Parks) with a storied past and a remote mansion in Bifrost, Manitoba.
Ahoy, mateys! There be spoilers ahead.
The kindly, old wheelchair bound man doesn’t just have marvelous stories about drinking with Ernest Hemingway; he also has a jones for a kindly walrus who saved his life on one of his many adventures. “I have never known such a connection with anyone,” he says, “human or otherwise.” Turns out, he’s a serial killer who lures young men to his home, drugs them and surgically turn them into a walrus. “Man is a savage beast. Better to be a walrus.” Goo goo goo joob goo goo goo job.
There’s more, in the form of a girlfriend (Genesis Rodriguez) and podcast partner (Haley Joel Osment) who, with the aid of a Quebecois detective Guy Lapointe (Johnny Depp, in what may be the most tedious performance by a major star in a film this year) search for the waylaid podcaster.
“Tusk” is audacious. I’ll give Smith that. Part “Freaks,” part “The Human Centipede,” and part stoner comedy, it has some truly astounding moments. It’s a deeply weird idea, which in other hands might have been developed into something more interesting than simply a vessel for gags about a restaurant called “Poutiney Weenie” and Canadian stereotypes.
Smith had good stuff to work with. Parks is creepy and eloquent. Long is well cast as an annoying twit of a podcaster, but they are hindered by a torrent of words; endless dialogue that doesn’t forward the story. The idea of “Tusk,” as Smith presents it, warrants a short film, not a ninety-minute movie that feels much longer than it actually is because of self-indulgent direction.