As the closing credits started to roll for Tusk, Kevin Smith's freaky new horror film, I felt disturbed and moved. The Clerks creator makes some big mistakes in the movie, but in the end he left me staring at a patently ridiculous image while reflecting on the sadness and perverse beauty of the human condition.
Then, over the credits, Smith plays a segment from the podcast where the idea for Tusk originated. Smith and his colleague Scott Mosier have a giggly brainstorming session, talking about how the story might go, including its ending. Smith may have thought it clever to include the audio artifact, but the practical effect is this: He stirs up our emotions, then laughs at us for responding to his manipulations. He treats us like chumps.
Tusk was sparked by a real ad where some guy looking for a roommate offered free rent if his new roomie would dress up like a walrus. The ad drew a lot of attention and turned out to have been posted as a joke, but never mind, it served as inspiration.
Justin Long plays Wallace, the loudmouthed host of a hit podcast. Wallace makes fun of things while his co-host, Teddy (Haley Joel Osment) offers support. They call what they do a "not-see" podcast because of Teddy's unwillingness to travel, and because it sounds like Nazi, which gives you a clue as to their sense to humor.
After watching a viral video of some kid accidentally chopping his leg off with a sword (the video's special effects are astonishingly bad), Wallace sets out for Manitoba to interview the kid, only to learn the boy committed suicide. At a convenience store, he spots an ad by the film's version of the walrus aficionado and heads into the wilderness to meet up with the man.
Here's where the movie gets good. At a spooky old house, Wallace meets Howard Howe (Michael Parks), an old fellow with an otherworldly demeanor, loads of good stories and an insane plan. Wallace ends up trapped in the house and gruesome things happen. Teddy and Wallace's girlfriend Ally (Genesis Rodriquez) head up to find him, employing French-Canadian detective Guy Lapointe (Johnny Depp) to lead the search.
The pre-spooky house part of the film is typical Smith with some obvious Canada jokes tacked on. Long is abrasive, but it's nice to see our Sixth Sense buddy Osment again. He's beefed up considerably, but you adjust to the appearance change quickly. Take note of the clerks at the convenience store — they are played by the daughters of Smith and Depp and are set to star in an upcoming Smith movie.
Parks is wonderful as the walrus-obsessed Howe. The role is juicy and he establishes and maintains the perfect tone. The segments with Howe and Wallace work. The rescue mission scenes are less effective, largely because the unbilled Depp is such a ham. His Guy Lapointe is nothing but quirky mannerisms, and his time onscreen is a drag.
For all that's wrong with Tusk, the good parts make the weirdo film worth a look-see. Get ready to be amused, exasperated and drawn into a bizarre story that may make you tear up. Don't stay for the closing credits though, because you're no chump and you don't deserve to be laughed at by Kevin and his pal.
My Old Lady
★★★1/2 (out of five)
New Yorker Mathias Gold (Kevin Kline) inherits a Paris apartment from his dad, but when he arrives in France, he discovers 90-something Brit Mathilde Girard (Maggie Smith) and her icy daughter Chloe (Kristin Scott Thomas) living there – and due to the French law, he may be stuck with the arrangement. Kline is excellent as a failed playwright, multiple divorcee and recovering alcoholic. Smith and Thomas are as good as always, though the screenplay forces Thomas to make a radical shift in her presentation style. The film is so-so. The actors, especially Kline, rise above the formulaic material.
This is Where I Leave You
Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda and Adam Driver are a few family members drawn together following Dad's death to spend a week at the old homestead. Comedy and drama mix as they deal with relationships, unfinished emotional business, old loves … yes, it's one of those movies. I like this genre, provided that the cast is good and the script isn't too clunky. This one isn't memorable, but it works well-enough to squeak by (though the storyline with Timothy Olyphant as the brain-damaged — literally — ex-boyfriend of Tina Fey goes nowhere) and the cast is full of likeable performers. An agreeable disposa-movie.