By Kyle G. King. In your mind’s eye, if you can conjure up a picture of an out of character Kevin Smith, the chances are he is wearing a large hockey jersey. He loves them. He wears one everywhere he goes. Google image search “Kevin Smith” and nearly every picture is him donning his signature blue and orange jersey with something different and supposedly witty written on it. (I’m legitimately curious just how many jerseys hang in his closet.) I’m not here to bash Smith’s fashion sense, but it’s worthwhile to mention that the way he repetitiously chooses to dress and the manner in which he repetitiously writes characters and makes movies run shockingly parallel.

Now sure, I thoroughly enjoyed Mr. Smith’s art house break-out feature that was Clerks, a black and white film about nothingness and working a shit job – what starry eyed high school student dreaming of art school wouldn’t? Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, these are all staples of our 1990’s counter culture of baggy jnco’s, comic books, and record stores, but they’re all the same hockey jersey of dick jokes and superficially smart commentary.  Considering my stoner phase in eleventh grade and the fact that I have probably seen Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back more than I’d like to admit, I’ve begged the question: what else do you have for us, Mr. Smith?

Well it takes about 10 years and a failed Clerks sequel to attempt to answer this question, but we finally get a few movies without a role for Jason Mewes. Enter Tusk: Smith’s deeper leap into the horror genre (he conceivably dipped a toe into horror with his 2011 film Red State). Tusk was initially developed on air by Smith and his podcast co-host Scott Mosier on their ingeniously named show SModcast. (Smith and Mosier, get it?) Smith reads us a message sent by one of his Twitter followers, of a seemingly real housing ad that auctions a free room in a shared mansion for anyone who replies. The only catch being that the tenant must occasionally dress and act like a blubbering walrus, an honorable animal friend that the ad’s author made on an island some time ago whom he dearly misses. Now most people would see this as an internet gag, have a good laugh, eat some chocolate, and return to their boring, meaningless life. But Smith saw not only an opportunity to make an entire hour and a half podcast out of it, but a 102 minute, 3 and a half million dollar movie. Good for him though, right? We’ve all probably done sillier things on a smaller and poorer scale.

Tusk is set primarily in central Canada (although aside from several ‘aboot’ jokes you might never know it), and it follows Wallace Bryton (played by a mustached Justin Long), who hosts a weekly podcast that chronicles and exploits “weird or interesting people” with his friend Teddy (an older, rounder Haley Joel Osment). The movie opens with the pair in the studio recording their show, having a laugh and being general buffoons. Right off the bat, we get the first signature lick of a Kevin Smith movie: their banter – the standard, stereotypically raunchy radio talk show host stuff – surprisingly works to engage the audience. Here I was, fully intent on hating a movie about a man and his walrus friend, actually enjoying Justin Long talking and laughing with Haley Joel Osment. That can’t be right can it? Shit. Well if you do the math, and I know how odd this will sound, Justin Long might just be born to play this role. Hear me out, wait. He could arguably be called a “Frat-Pack” sidekick and certainly carries the comedic chops to play an arrogant podcaster with a mustache and a girlfriend, with movies like Waiting, Accepted, and, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, but he still knows how to scream and sweat with horror notches on his bedpost from Jeeper’s Creepers and Sam Raimi’s Drag Me To Hell.

Eventually Wallace finds another poor soul to jab, laugh at, and make money off of and he travels to Canada to interview “The Kill Bill Kid”, an internet sensation who recorded himself playing with a katana sword and accidentally hacked his own leg off. And despite the objection of Wallace’s girlfriend Ally (the dear and very tanned Genesis Rodriguez) to not exploit and humiliate this kid, he ignores her thoughts and flies up to The Great White North nonetheless. When he arrives, complications with the kid arise and Wallace finds himself out of a segment for next week’s show. He gripes to Teddy over the phone in a bar that he needs to find a new subject. Luckily, nature calls, and when Wallace visits the bar’s restroom he sees an ad for a man named Howard Howe (played perfectly by Michael Parks) who is looking for someone willing to lend an ear for his old navy stories, in exchange for a free room in his luxurious home… oh, and also they would have to dress up like a walrus and bark around with tusks on every now and then.

So with that, Wallace has his lead on a story for next week. He stops at a gas station going out of town (with a quick cameo from Kevin Smith’s own daughter Harley Quinn), and asks for directions to Manitoba, where Howard lives. Now somewhere between the gas station and Howard’s place, the movie’s tone changes. Up until now we’ve had a rather calm comedy about a few (somewhat) normal people. But when Wallace arrives at Howard’s place, the movie shifts drastically to scenes of long conversations with character-rich dialogue that aren’t quite comedy or horror, but seem like a somewhat smoky, cerebral thriller somewhere in between. Initially their conversation is light-hearted and professional, but they each seem to be having separate discussions to themselves and they hardly listen to each other. The conversation turns when Wallace is entertained by the long husk of a walrus baculum, and is too immature to pick up on Howard’s subtle jabs at the current generation’s lack of civil humanity. This is arguably the best part of the entire movie, for this progression is where Michael Parks really shines in a haunting, slow revelation of evil. He goes from a kind hearted, slow moving, and non-threatening theoretical grandpa telling stories of his time in the navy, to a mad surgeon social outcast capable of disabling the use of your legs in just three scenes of about 10 minutes each, and you love every single second of it.

By the third act, the film is searching for a heart and soul with flashbacks to Wallace and Ally the day before his Canadian departure. They bicker about their relationship’s dynamic and Wallace’s own metamorphosis into “New Wallace” and how he differs from “Old Wallace”, and you begin to see a selfish cutthroat side of him that previously went unchecked. Howard preaches to Wallace the ideals of man and animal that puts Wallace’s profession, livelihood, and his very nature under the proverbial microscope. You grow a well deserved hatred for Wallace and an uncomfortable love for Howard and his obsession with Mr. Tusk (the name for his beloved walrus friend).

Now for me, this movie had three very distinct and genre-specific acts. The first is a buddy comedy with Kevin Smith’s breed of dick jokes and off-beat laughs. The second is his smarter ego, with long conversations about humanity and animal instincts. And the third is Smith’s go at a splatter film in the vein of The Human Centipede. And this is where the movie falls apart. There is a “big reveal” moment that comes entirely too early, both for pacing and because it makes the separate story arc with Ally & Teddy’s search for Wallace almost entirely moot. Granted, this story arc does give us some time with Guy Lapointe (an uncredited Johnny Depp as a more foul-mouthed Inspector Clouseau-esque French Canadian detective) but it all simply seems out of context and unbalanced within Wallace and Howard’s story arc. The movie finishes how you might expect it to, and we the audience are left to leave the theater scratching our heads at how on earth Kevin Smith was granted funding to make this film and how we might actually  feel about it.

With movie tickets as expensive as they are these days, I’d urge you to save your money for The Red Box and play this one on a fourth date at home during a thunderstorm, assuming by that fourth date you’ve already gotten some play and won’t need to entirely pay attention to the film. In other news, Clerks III has been announced, Kevin Smith is still cashing in, and I am still working an hourly job.