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March 15, 2024 / levelFILM

Starring: Cody Lightning, Hannah Cheesman, Simon Baker, Conway Kootenay

Directed By: Cody Lightning

In Hey, Viktor!, actor Cody Lightning, who played the child version of Beach’s character, revisits that beloved film as director, co-writer, and — playing an outsized version of himself — mockumentary lead. Eager to boost his floundering acting career, the fictional Cody looks to cash in on his old childhood role. He wants to make a sequel for Smoke Signals, in which he would star (as “Viktor,” to avoid a potential lawsuit), alongside the original cast. His first move: hijack the film crew which is documenting his intervention.

This wild comedy follows a man with plenty of vices, driven by money and fame as he alienates his family and friends (such as his producer Kate, played by Hannah Cheesman) on his quest to make this sequel. Fans of the film’s inspiration will have that nostalgic itch scratched — we may or may not see many of Smoke Signals’ core cast — but there are so many outrageous moments and jokes that it’s a fun ride to go on, even if you haven’t seen the original.

Written By Darren Zakus

Rating 2.5 out of 5

Hey Viktor! has its funny moments that will no doubt have audiences laughing, but Cody Lightning's directorial debut struggles to become the crowd pleasing vibe it strives to be due to an unlikable lead character making purposely bad decisions for the sake of cheap comedic gags.

Mockumentary films have situations in which they work perfectly, but there are just as many other situations where they do not work. The idea of following an actor trying to recapture the fame they had as a child star in making a self-funded sequel to their biggest role while their life is falling apart around them has promise, but sadly it does not come to fruition in Hey Viktor! Cody Lightning plays a fictitious version of himself who is at a low point in life, trying to stage a comeback by making a sequel to his biggest film of his career and beloved indie comedy Smoke Signals, and there are moments where Lightning’s film finds that winning mixture of heart and laughter that it needed to succeed. For die hard fans of Smoke Signals, the callbacks to the original film and seeing the actors from it reunite on screen may be enough to guarantee a fun watch, but for those who have not seen Smoke Signals or are looking for a film relying on something more than nostalgia and cheap humour, you will have to search for it elsewhere.

The film plays with some fun ideas that arise in making films, such as right ownership as Cody in the film discovers he cannot make a sequel to Smoke Signals and is forced to change his script, the demands of financiers and editing the footage he has shot to find the story that needs to be told, not the one he intended to tell, all of which help to create some of the best jokes of the film. The film’s final twenty minutes are easily its strongest as Cody’s character finally realizes that he needs to change his ways to not only create the film that will connect with audiences, but to salvage his life. While it captures the heart that the screenplay was striving toward the entire film, sadly, it happens far too late to course correct the film. For the first two acts, his character largely makes dumb decision after decision for no reason other than to create some easy comedic gags, that as a result, are rarely funny. It’s the usual antics that we have seen over and over again in comedies, and when being committed by a lead character that is hard to warm up to, they do not have the intended comedic effect that Lightning as a writer was striving for. While there is no denying that this film had potential conceptually, as it had elements of The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent and Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood mixed in with indigenous representation, it crumbles under the weight of its own screenplay that spends more time cracking mediocre jokes rather than developing Cody’s character.

What does work in this film’s favours is the performances from the cast. Lightning truly dives into this fictional, larger than life version of himself, capturing the downward spiral of his character towards rock bottom in a glorious fashion. Whether it be physical comedy, ridiculous one liners or truly awkward situations, Lightning fully immerses himself in each moment. Sometimes it pays off with some hilarious moments; other times it doesn’t, but it is not Lightning’s performance that falters, it's his writing. The standout is without question Hannah Cheesman as Kate, Cody’s manager and best friend, who has the funniest and most touching storyline as she has to submit her DNA to prove her heritage for production tax credit purposes (as a former film production accountant, I was dying of laughter). Never missing a comedic beat, Cheesman also brings the heart to the film and helps pave the way for the moment where Cody hits rock bottom and looks in the mirror, actually reflecting on his outrageous behaviour and realizes he needs to change his ways. Whenever she is on screen, the film is better for it because with Cheesman, the film would lose the heart it needs to sell the third act. The rest of the supporting cast is having fun, including Simon Baker, Adam Beach, and Irene Bedard, reuniting with Lightning and playing versions of themselves finding themselves pulled back to their Smoke Signals characters, while Peter Craig Robinson is a true delight in his small role as Jackson.

There is no doubt that the fans of Smoke Signals are going to have fun with Hey Viktor! as the nostalgia is enough to carry the film when combined with a slew of good performances. However, the film’s screenplay disservices the characters and the actors with comedic gags that more often than not fail to land, sadly burying the real great jokes and the heart of the film that makes for an enjoyable conclusion to the film. While the cast puts in commendable performances, notably Hannah Cheesman in the film’s most pivotal role, Hey Viktor! cannot rise above the cheap humour that overloads the screenplay and prevents the true intentions of the film from reaching its full potential.

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