Kevin Smith, USA, 2014, 102 min.
Kevin Smith has had an interesting career. Clerks and Mallrats introduced us to his clever dialog, juvenile but fresh humor, and lack of directorial artistry. He has had some great ideas since then, but when Red State rolled around it was clear that things had changed.
Red State was a straight horror film, but it was stylish, had good performances and a knock-out ending that was really interesting even if it didn’t quite work. It had its problems for sure, but it was a step in a new, more mature direction for Smith. At least in my opinion. In Tusk, Kevin Smith moves even more in that direction, and the results, albeit a bit messy, are unique, captivating, and very fun to watch.
The story involves a lewd podcaster (Justin Long, obviously playing Kevin Smith), travelling to Canada in order to meet a famous youtuber who accidentally cut off his own leg on video. When that interview falls through he finds a more interesting subject via a flyer in a bar bathroom. An old man with stories to tell and, as it turns out, some big secrets, too.
The introduction of the old man, played with relish by Michael Parks, moves the film into a strange poetic-splatter-horror zone. Parks carries that section of the film with his considerable talent. But Smith keeps things interesting himself by supplying lots of interesting dialog and stories as well as some odd but affecting directorial choices.
Justin Long’s girlfriend, for example, has a great monologue straight into the camera. One very long take full of emotion that on paper may be out of place but instead adds to the tone. To balance scenes like that out, the third act introduces comic relief from an over-the-top French-Canadian investigator played by Johnny Depp (uncredited). These segments do go on too long, but they add to the off-the-wall feel to the film. And the perfect ending for this film cements the whole thing place.
If any film ever needs the right tone to work properly, it’s this one. It can’t be played too serious, or too goofy. There is a fine line that the film needs to walk in order to pull it off. And Kevin Smith doesn’t just walk the line. He draws his own crazy one that works just as well. It’s a unique experience, which, nowadays, is very rare. Kevin Smith’s immaturity hasn’t disappeared, it’s just matured, and Tusk shows it off perfectly.