Thursday, September 18, 2014

Kevin Smith, an old-hand at humor, now tries mixing it with horror in the rock-bottom TUSK

As a long-time fan of the work of Kevin Smith -- from Clerks and Chasing Amy through Zach and Miri Make a Porno and Red State -- it pains me greatly to declare his newest film, TUSK, the worst movie I've seen all year, maybe several. How could this happen? Has Smith's sense of humor, crazy and transgressive as it is, utterly deserted him? Was it this venture into the world of crappy special effects-laden schlock that did him in? Or the use of a very hoary story, so thick with cliché (that he never manages to upend)? Or, worst of all, is it due to a certain very famous actor playing a character called Guy LaPointe (ostensibly playing himself and credited as such), who is so dreadfully unfunny as to stop the proceedings dead in their tracks (and then leave them there)? Tusk is, above all, the What-were-they-thinking? movie of the new century. This film is so bad that it will have you wishing the upcoming apocalypse would occur immediately, just to put you out of your misery.

Mr. Smith, shown clowning at left, apparently has lost all sense of what works and what doesn't for an intelligent audience, or even for one that just wants dumb laughs and/or scares. He's au courant, as usual, in his choice of the profession of his "hero" -- a podcaster, played by Justin Long, who specializes in the crass and crappy. Mr. Long, below, is an actor I have always enjoyed, and this is literally the first time I've seen him give a bad performance. He's rude, crude, ugly -- and loud as hell. Granted, he's playing a not very likable fellow, and considering what is going to happen to him in the course of the movie, we wouldn't want to find ourselves identifying with him much. Even considering all this, Mr. Long gives an utterly two-note performance: first playing asshole, then playing victim.

The filmmaker manages to telegraph just about everything that happens along the way, thus draining suspense and chills from the menu. (This is quite a sadistic movie, however, and that quality remains throughout.) While Long manages some chemistry with his leading male co-star -- a rather heavily weight-gained Hayley Joel Osment (below, left), playing his friend and business partner, he has absolutely none with his would-be paramour, played by Genesis Rodriguez (below, right, and at bottom).

The plot finds Long's character in Canada, tracking a story for his podcast that suddenly disappears, leaving him needing a new one -- which he finds via a handwritten letter posted on the bulletin board of a local bar. Heading to the story's source, he is confronted by a wheelchair-bound Michael Parks (below), another actor I always enjoy. Except here, where he brings the art of blathering to new depths. (When you find yourself several steps ahead of the story and cast in terms of plot and performance, things can really grow boring.)

And then, with the introduction of the main supporting character, that would-be private detective, Guy La Pointe, the movie simply dies right in front of you. This character -- played about as badly as possible by a famous actor, the identify of whom I will not give away -- is so poorly conceived and executed that what is clearly supposed to be funny dies on the vine. There's nary a laugh to be found. Instead, things grow thuddingly slow, repetitive and tiresome. (Perhaps the actor in question imagined he was creating some sort of bumblingly humorous character, the likes of which Peter Sellers might have played. Sorry, but no dice.)

Was Kevin Smith trying to make something new and different here? I expect so. The movie is full of idiot  flashbacks that are there to help make us care. We don't  And when the film goes for full-bore horror, the effects are so ridiculous that we laugh instead of gasp.Worse, I actually believe that Smith wants us to be moved a bit by our hero's plight in the final reel. This is really embarrassing. Watching a tear form in the eye of what Mr. Long's character has become proves one of the nadir moments in cinema history.

One enormous misfire, Tusk (released via A24) embarrasses everything and everyone it touches. The horror/fantasy genre would appear to be one in which Mr. Smith ought not to dabble. But if you crave a view of what utter failure looks like, you can see it tomorrow, Friday, September 19, at half a dozen theaters in New York City, and a bunch more in the Los Angeles area. And probably elsewhere, too.

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