Sunday, September 21, 2014

Destined to Find a Home on the Midnight Circuit

While Kevin Smith’s TUSK (2014) is currently playing in wide release at regular hours, I left my local theater last night wondering how such a strange project wasn’t released specifically to midnight audiences. The film is receiving such mixed reviews (most on the negative side) that chances are, like THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, this film just might find its way to midnight screenings before too long.

Those familiar with cult films might not find TUSK all too weird (it’s basically a re-telling of FRANKENSTEIN), but chances are most mainstream film goers just won’t get Kevin Smith’s incredibly dark sense of humor. And younger viewers might find some of this either too absurd or disturbing.

Justin Long stars as Los Angeles podcaster Wallace Bryton. After he and his co-host share a video of some kid accidentally cutting his own leg off on a YouTube video, Wallace decides to head up to Canada and get a live interview with the viral superstar. But when he arrives, he walks in on a funeral: the poor kid has killed himself as Wallace traveled north, leaving our snarky podcaster with a $550.00 plane ticket tab and nothing to show for it. That is, until he uses the men’s room at a local bar and finds a flier from a man looking to rent a room and seeking someone to share his life stories with. Thrilled, Wallace manages to find the secluded mansion of Howard Howe (played brilliantly by Michael Parks). Howe offers Wallace some tea and begins sharing his stories (one reminiscent of Quint’s shark-attack story from JAWS (1975)).

Wallace is taken aback by a walrus bone Howard has mounted on the wall. Howard explains how, after being lost at sea, he befriended a walrus who he swears saved his life and became a better friend than any human he has ever known.

(Wallace (Justin Long) sips tea as he listens to Howard Howe (Michael Parks) share tales from his illustrious life)

And during this story, Wallace passes out from the apparently tainted tea.

He wakes in a wheelchair and finds one of his legs missing. Howard then lets his plans be known (ala THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE (2009)) and this is when TUSK’s horror element kicks into high gear. But like any good horror/comedy, Smith keeps the humor dark and just below the surface, sometimes buried a bit too deep, but nonetheless always present.

Wallace manages to make frantic cell phone calls to his girlfriend and podcast co-host before Howard takes it away from him. Ally (Genesis Rodriguez) and Teddy (THE SIXTH SENSE’s Haley Joel Osment) believe Wallace’s message of being captured by some psycho, so they travel up north to look for him. A policeman gives them the number of a man who has been investigating a local serial killer, and they meet him in a White Castle-like fast food joint. This is perhaps where TUSK becomes strangest. Guy Lapointe (played by an uncredited superstar…google it if you want spoilers) acts like a way over-the-top cross between Inspector Clouseau and Columbo (this character seems to be what has turned many off to the film). He’s goofy, silly, and at times will make you groan out loud, yet the character also works (at least to this filmgoer). The actor in question isn’t afraid of trying new things, and this here is the ultimate proof. Besides what becomes of Wallace, it’s Lapointe who gives TUSK is real weirdness factor. It’s as if a cartoon character managed to come to life, and the audience doesn’t know what he’ll do from one second to the next. A flashback sequence between Lapointe and Howard is one of the films’ highlights, as is a brief post-credit appearance.

I’m convinced some viewers who hated this didn’t realize it was a dark comedy. Anyone going in expecting a shock-fest horror film will most likely be disappointed. And while this is a hybrid of FRANKENSTEIN, THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU and THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE with homage’s to JAWS and COLUMBO, Smith manages to keep things on a semi-fresh demented vibe and never bores the viewer, even during a few lengthy stretches of dialogue.

With fine performances all around and an idea that seems engineered for underground crowds, TUSK is a film that will eventually weed out the freaks and build its audience.

review by Nick Cato

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