A melding of Kevin Smith’s comedic sensibilities with the dark weirdness that permeated his last effort, Red State, Tusk might be the oft hockey jersey clad auteur’s most ambitious and thoughtful project yet. It’s not without its flaws, but Smith has clearly reached the “I just don’t give a fuck” portion of his career and it’s going to be interesting to see where he goes from here.
Arrogant podcast host Wallace (Justin Long) initially goes up to Canada so he can exploit someone else’s misfortunes on his show (co-hosted by Haley Joel Osment and bearing a terrible pun for a name), but instead gets lured in by a post in a Winnepeg washroom. He’s called to the secluded home of Howard Howe (Michael Parks, who gets an even better role here than in Smith’s last film), who says he has stories to tell, but really he has other decidedly bloodier and bizarre business that led him there.
It’s a hard film to take at face value or talk about because the reveals are part of the fun. Smith has really upped his game for the most part, though. Unafraid to balance the goofy with the grotesque or opaque, he adopts a structure of flashing back and forward between characters and long takes of people telling stories in a way that feels unique. Not only does his writing here serve to underline how Wallace is a creep who might be getting what he deserves and how Howard became unhinged, but ultimately his points about losing one’s sense of humanity feel personal. There are many moments where – despite Long’s appropriate “Paul F. Thompkins as a sociopath” performance – it seems like Smith is taking the piss out of himself.
Still, it’s not all a home run. There are still uncomfortable glimpses of cute T-shirts that will probably be mass marketed to his fans any day now, a late addition of a Quebecois cop character goes far too over the top when the rest of the movie gets serious around it, and playing his own podcast (and source material) over the credits don’t do him any favours. But despite that, it’s admirable that Smith thinks enough of his legion of fans to test and see how far they’re willing to go with him instead of constantly pandering to them. (Andrew Parker)
Sunday, September 7th, 9:45pm, Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
Friday, September 12th, 3:45pm, Scotiabank 1