Tusk is a strange beast, no pun intended (considering the content of the film). A highly flawed, uneven film that many will find impossible to like, it shows writer-director Kevin Smith continuing to develop and highlight his darker side. Many of his comedies had black humour in them, of course, but it was Red State that really let him dip his toes into something approaching horror. Tusk, at least on the surface, does the same. But the fact that it's actually a comedy makes it a tough one to easily recommend.
Let's get the basic storyline out of the way. Justin Long plays a podcaster named Wallace Bryton. Wallace and his friend,Teddy (Haley Joel Osment), use their airtime to look at clips on the internet of people who have gone viral, mainly through stupidity but sometimes because of certain strange characteristics. Wallace is always after the next big thing with which to shock and impress his audience, which takes him to the home of an old man (Michael Parks) who assures him that he has a story or two to tell. He does indeed have some stories. But his most interesting one hasn't been completed yet, and it may well involve Wallace.
Based on an idea that came about during Smith's own podcast (SModcast), and featuring a number of ideas and even lines of dialogue pre-approved by his fanbase, you'd be forgiven for wondering if Tusk was a franken-film. It certainly feels, at times, like a number of disconnected scenes thrown together with little thought given to the central storyline. Yet it also has a pretty obvious message underlying most of the content, so writing it off as nothing more than an easy fan-pleaser is probably doing it a bit of a disservice. It's also worth noting that every moment that doesn't quite work, every comedic beat that feels too weird, every wild image pushing the film further into dark absurdity, it all shows a confident (or brave . . . . . or foolish) director in the hot seat.
Long isn't at his best here, but he's not too bad. His characters is supposed to be mildly irritating, at best, and he is. Parks is the star turn, reeling off tales that range from the sublime to the ridiculous with equal ease and aplomb. Osment and Genesis Rodriguez both do well in supporting roles, with the latter playing the girlfriend of Long's character, and there's a performance from Johnny Depp to add to another list of his kooky performances. It's that performance, if anything, that should clue viewers in to the fact that this is a pitch black comedy. Although if you don't get it by that point then you've just not been paying attention.
Anyone expecting another piece of nastiness like The Human Centipede (First Sequence) should content themselves by instead renting The Human Centipede: Full Sequence. This is a film aimed more at people who start to grunt and mutter as soon as they hear of yet another internet "celebrity" with no obvious talent. It's not one I'd rush to revisit, but it's certainly an interesting curio.