Film review: Kevin Smith’s ‘Tusk’ is an ambitious failure

The scariest thing about Kevin Smith’s Tusk might be Justin Long’s mustache.

Two stars

Tusk Justin Long, Michael Parks, Genesis Rodriguez. Directed by Kevin Smith. Rated R. Opens Friday.

It’s hard to believe that Kevin Smith is better at delivering creepy scares than lowbrow laughs, but he’s proven that twice now with his forays into horror-comedy. Like 2011’s Red State, Tusk is a scattershot mix of genuinely unsettling moments and goofy over-the-top characters, with a disjointed plot and a dissatisfying ending. Also like Red State, Tusk’s biggest asset is the performance from veteran character actor Michael Parks as the movie’s twisted villain: Here, he plays Howard Howe, a reclusive former seaman living in rural Manitoba, who lures in snarky podcaster Wallace Bryton (Justin Long) with an ad offering up tales from his colorful past.

While Howard holds Wallace captive and does unspeakable things to him, Wallace’s girlfriend Ally (Genesis Rodriguez) and his podcast co-host Teddy (Haley Joel Osment) set out to look for their missing friend. Smith generates real chills from the scenes between the sadistic, erudite Howard and the terrified Wallace, but the lengthy, superfluous flashbacks and the meandering cutaways to the search are full of lame Canadian-stereotype jokes and belabored gimmicks (including an uncredited Johnny Depp as a French-Canadian detective).

The tonal shifts undermine the horror, especially as Howard’s actions become more grotesque, and the end result is more baffling than scary or funny. Smith’s newfound artistic ambition is a welcome change from his years of recycling the same characters and bits, but even he can’t convincingly pull off a combination of The Human Centipede and a Harold & Kumar movie.

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