Rumors of Kevin “Clerks” Smith’s retirement from the silver screen to spend his dotage doing podcasts for his aging fanboy fanbase were alas, grossly overstated. He has used that podcast to generate a tall tale, a serio-comic Canadian-joke of a horror film.
“Tusk” has “comeback” buzz coming out of the Toronto Film Festival. Perhaps that buzz came from the city’s crack happy mayor, Rob Ford.
Justin Long and Haley “Sixth Sense” Joel Osment play faintly funny co-hosts of “The Not-See Party,” a popular podcast built on accident videos in which they mock the unfortunate selfie-taking victims of those videos.
Wallace (Long) leaves his juvenile, sexual-fantasy-accommodating fanboy’s idea of a girlfriend (Genesis Rodriguez) to fly to Manitoba to meet and interview “The Kill Bill Kid,” (Josh Gad, in an unspoken cameo), who injured himself on camera with a samurai sword.
That doesn’t work out. But in between humorous encounters with stereotypical Canadians, Wallace reads a note on a bar bathroom wall and sets out to find this aged sailor (Michael Parks), a geezer whose slurred tall tales about D-Day with Hemingway are illustrated in black and white flashbacks.
Doesn’t really fit the format of the podcast, but Wallace is enthralled — until he passes out, wakes up and starts to see his mortal peril.
The folks who care about him back in Los Angeles fly to Winnipeg to track him down. And that’s where they run into the Quebec detective, Guy Lapointe, played with an amusingly irritating verbosity by an almost unrecognizable Johnny Depp.
“Tusk” resembles “Red State” in its attraction to and misuse of talent like Depp. Both he and Long sport ill-suited mustaches, and while Long is mainly misused as a slow-take reactor, Depp drags out a series of semi-amusing monologues about his serial killer quarry.
Parks has the most stories, and he botches line readings and generally bores as he and the script give away the direction this “Saw/Silence of the Lambs/Human Centipede” riff long before the “reveal.”
There is no suspense, no race against the clock to save Wallace, no moral lesson to his fate. This is what Smith thinks of the low-rent horror trade he has tried to reinvent himself in.
What he gets right is what his films have always managed, random riffs — a scene with a hilariously bearded border agent (Harley Morenstein) who explains “Cana-Dos and Cana-Don’ts” to Wallace, scenes with dopey-cute convenience store clerks who say “a-boot” instead of “about,” and “hate American guys.”
Because it all comes back to such clerks with Smith, sparring with customers, getting rude and getting crude. Jay and Silent Bob may have been put out to pasture, but in this not-even-faintly scary, rarely funny horror comedy, Smith is still sucking down big gulps of empty calories and hoping we’ll laugh at his belch.
MPAA Rating: R for some disturbing violence/gore, language and sexual content
Cast: Justin Long, Haley Joel Osment, Genesis Rodriguez, Johnny Depp
Credits: Written and directed by Kevin Smith. An A24 release.
Running time: 1:42