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Tusk (2014)

Directed by Kevin Smith

3 stars

LA-based podcaster Wallace Bryton (Justin Long) and sidekick Teddy (Haley Joel Osment) make a living from videos that celebrate the Darwin Awards candidate in all of us. When a clip of a Canadian wannabe-samurai accidentally amputating his left leg goes viral, Wallace sets off on his first visit to the Great White North, to bag a follow-up interview.

But his humiliated and depressed target has, in the meantime, killed himself. Rather than waste the price of his plane ticket, Wallace looks for another interviewee, and finds it in the form of wheelchair-bound Howard Howe (Michael Parks), part gentleman explorer, part old sea dog, and 100% nutcase, who promises tales of great adventure in exchange for help with simple household chores.

Once Wallace is installed in Howe’s gothic pile, the traveller begins to tell his central story – his battle with a great walrus. But Howe intends to bring this story to life in a very literal way.

Tusk is a family movie, in the sense that Kevin Smith and Johnny Depp, and their daughters, feature significantly – but only in that one sense. Smith has rummaged around in the spare parts bin of Misery, The Human Centipede, Kill Bill, Inglorious Basterds and a bunch of other movies, but this is much more than just a rip-off.

The movie has great fun with Canadian stereotypes (notably an immigration officer played by Harley Morenstein, and Depp’s turn as investigator Guy LaPoint) – but it is really American attitudes to Canada that are being mocked.

The cast and crew clearly had a huge amount of fun making this movie, perhaps more than the audience at times (the long, static Basterds-style dialogues were a little wearing).

But I laughed a lot as I watched Tusk at TIFF’s Midnight Madness screening. I suspect that sleep deprivation enhanced the experience and it might seem somewhat less hilarious playing mid-afternoon. Still, it is by a clear margin the best boy-meets-walrus story to come out of North America this year.

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