Kevin Smith, whose repeated threats in recent years of permanently exiting the world of filmmaking have taken on the dubious credibility of retirement announcements from, say, most classic rock bands, has apparently found his creative mojo once again with the batshit crazy Tusk. Smith's previous film, 2011's Red State, was justifiably poorly received by critics and audiences, souring him even further on the filmmaking process. Then in 2013, a bizarre discussion on an episode of Smith's SModcast podcast hastily inspired him to write and direct Tusk, a high-concept movie (in more ways than one, I'm sure) that can be summarized with one sentence: Los Angeles podcaster visits Manitoba and gets kidnapped by a lunatic who turns him into a walrus. Still with me? Smith, during the film's second TIFF screening I attended after its world premiere the night before, joked that he had reached the point in his career where "I don't give a fuck anymore", but just because Smith has reached a bitter crossroads in his career that's resulted in quite literally one of the worst movie experiences I've ever sat through doesn't mean you should also be subjected to the man's lack of impulse control.
Two main things drew me to Tusk: 1) I was a modest fan of most of Smith's work (which you probably can't tell from the contempt being leveled at him in this review, but that just speaks to the permanently scarring effects of this abomination) and 2) the film is mostly set in Manitoba and promised plenty of Canadian references and jokes. The humour, like almost everything else in Tusk, never works, however. I can count on one hand the number of times I laughed during the film and I was surprised, frankly, that Smith, a man with both a sharp wit and an extensive knowledge of this country (as he'll gladly point out any chance he gets about the latter), stooped to such lazy and predictable jokes about not loving hockey and the word "aboot". Johnny Depp shows up briefly to chew scenery as Guy Lapointe, a quirky Quebec detective constructed entirely of French-Canadian stereotypes that become tiresome very quickly. For further evidence of the film's humour deficiency, the name of the comedy podcast hosted by protagonist Wallace Bryton (played by Justin Long, who goes heavy on the douchebaggery) and his sidekick, Teddy (played by The Sixth Sense's Haley Joel Osment), is "The Not-See Party", whose theme finds the hosts making fun of people they've read about or seen on the internet. That kind of half-assed and witless screenwriting also extends to key plot points, like the one that conveniently allows Wallace to contact his friends after being kidnapped by the deranged Howard Howe (played by Michael Parks, who's decent performance is the only thing remotely redeemable about the movie). I could go on about how the supposed big payoff of seeing Wallace transformed into a walrus disappoints mightily with shoddy special effects (the sight of him is slightly disturbing, but not Human Centipede-level disturbing), or how the tease of some much-needed action at the movie's end is practically over before it begins, or how the dreadful final scene provided a fitting end to this turd of a film…but I'm sure you've gotten my point. As I write this, I've gotten six days of distance from watching Tusk and having to revisit it for this review has genuinely made me feel, well, annoyed.
That annoyance was felt during the screening, too, as a packed audience heavy on Smith fanboys and fangirls at the sizable Bloor Hot Docs Cinema inexplicably laughed and cheered throughout the movie. Normally I stick around for festival Q & A sessions, but as the credits rolled and Tusk was met with rapturous applause, I couldn't head for the exits quickly enough to get as far away as possible from Kevin Smith and anyone who thought his latest film was worthy of such adoration. And fair warning: Smith has two more films in the pipeline that'll complete what he's calling his "True North Trilogy". Yoga Hosers is currently shooting and centres around the pair of surly teenage girl convenience store clerks (played by Smith's and Depp's daughters) that get about five minutes of forgettable screen time in Tusk, to be followed by a Jaws-inspired movie about a killer moose. God help us all.