Moderators of post-screening Q&A sessions often kick things off with a faintly dull ice-breaker: “Where did the idea for this movie come from?” In the case of Kevin Smith’s ludicrous Tusk, however, it’s a crucial question, as the film’s existence makes no sense without some knowledge of how it was inspired. Briefly, Smith and his producer, Scott Mosier, who host a weekly podcast together, were pranked by a fan who planted a classified ad in which someone claimed to offer free room and board, provided that the tenant were willing to dress up as a walrus 24/7. For an hour, the two of them extemporized a movie treatment based on this bizarre notion, turning it into a horror film in which the unwitting respondent would be surgically transformed into a walrus. Smith then invited his Twitter followers to vote on whether he should actually make the movie, using the hashtags #WalrusYes and #WalrusNo. #WalrusYes, they cried.
#WalrusUgh. Like most self-conscious attempts at a “midnight movie,” Tusk lacks the conviction that would make it anything more than an outré curiosity; it’s essentially a filmed dare, combined with fan service. The film’s sole redeeming factor is the juicy role it provides to 76-year-old cult actor Michael Parks, who’s experiencing a late-career renaissance thanks to filmmakers like Smith and Quentin Tarantino. As Howard Howe—the deranged serial killer who abducts smug podcast host Wallace Bryton (Justin Long) and gradually turns him into a pinniped—Parks gets to deliver several of Smith’s long, flowery monologues, quoting Shakespeare and Coleridge and relating memories of his long-ago friendship with a real walrus; the words are ridiculous, but Parks makes them musical, and Tusk is most entertaining during its early, expository scenes, before Howard drugs Wallace and gets to work with his bone saw.
Once Wallace is bleating piteously (his tongue having been cut out) in Howard’s secret home aquarium, however, the movie has nowhere to go. Its only real goal was to inspire disbelief that it was actually made, and that merely required Long to get into the walrus suit for a few minutes. (A climactic walrus battle set to Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk” is so patently stupid that viewers can practically hear Smith and Mosier cracking themselves up in the background.) To kill time, huge chunks of Tusk’s second half are devoted to the efforts of Wallace’s co-host (Haley Joel Osment) and girlfriend (Génesis Rodriguez) to track him down; they’re joined by a wacky private detective played incognito by a major movie star, who turns in the most tedious performance of his entire 27-year career. Smith has improved significantly as a director in recent years—his early technical ineptitude has at long last been supplanted by competence—but he remains all too willing to indulge any dopey idea that crosses his path. This one is for his enabling followers only.