Even if Clerks (1994) feels a century old, you can't help but root for Kevin Smith, still a good-natured motormouth. One imagines the scariest thing to him would be the inability to speak—and that's exactly what he explores in the horror-comedy Tusk, which is both overindulgent and the writer-director's most fascinatingly strange movie to date.
The Misery-like plot follows the calamitous misadventure of Wallace (Justin Long), a snarky L.A. podcaster who heads north to Canada to interview the Kill Bill Kid, a teen whose viral video shows him accidentally slicing off his own leg with a samurai sword. Yes, we cringe through that clip and it's a mark of Smith's underrated skill as a storyteller that he's intentionally bracing us for what's to come.
By the time Wallace hits Manitoba—via some broad Strange Brew-like Canuck yuks—his YouTube sensation has committed suicide. Selfishly desperate for a slot-filling interview, our hero connects with the ultraweird Howard Howe (Tarantino regular Michael Parks), a wealthy oldster who lures Wallace to his secluded mansion for tales of survival at sea. One spiked cup of tea later, Wallace awakens to find himself strapped to a wheelchair, being prepped for something too deliciously awful to ruin. Suffice to say, those legs have gotta go—ditto his tongue and other parts.
Tusk doesn't cram your snout in gruesomeness like The Human Centipede did; its big reveal to effects ace Robert Kurtzman's wondrous synthetic transformation of Wallace is a laugh, less so Wallace's unintelligible shrieking. The true lingua franca of the movie is gasbaggy speechifying: Parks is a master of plummy monologuing, while Smith is too generous with an uncredited Johnny Depp, playing a mustachioed Québécois detective whose French-Canadian patter tests patience.
Still, this is one bizarre comeuppance tale. Too glib and self-satisfied to count as a success, yet too personal to fully dismiss, Tusk—which features Fleetwood Mac's annoying coke-fueled march of the same name—is slippery as a seal.
Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf