When we finally see the fake cover page for the fake script for Canadian filmmaker and actor Cody Lightning’s Smoke Signals 2 and realize he’s subtitled it “Stilll Smoking,” it’s hard not to descend into hysterics. It’s a brief moment in Lightning’s new meta mockumentary Hey, Viktor, and though no one calls particular attention to it and the words flash only briefly onscreen, they say it all.
Here Lightning (Cree) plays an exaggerated version of himself more than 20 years after tackling the role of Young Victor in the acclaimed 1998 Sherman Alexie/Chris Eyre film, Smoke Signals. Still clinging to the smallest scraps of the most fleeting fame, he runs an acting class for kids and takes jobs in porn to pay the bills—and he still brings up his Smoke Signals role on the daily to people who either don’t know or don’t care it happened. He’s also become an Olympic-level alcoholic whose baby mama just left him for the hottest up-and-coming young Native actor in all of Canada (Peter Craig Robinson). Oh, and that documentary they’re shooting about his life? It might actually be an Intervention-style TV show.
In response, Lightning decides it’s time to finally film the Smoke Signals sequel he wrote with his best friend/manager Kate (an uproariously funny Hannah Cheeseman), and all he’ll need to appease his seemingly violent German producer/Native fetishizer is for the entire cast of the original movie to return. Easy, right?
Hey, Viktor is both a brilliant commentary on the aftermath of child stardom, and a surreal yet insightful comedy that dips into pitch-perfect dramatic moments. Lightning turns in a masterclass performance of buffoonery and absurdism strained through the filter of his real life. The things he does are insane, but his motivations are absolutely understandable. At the very least, he proves so vulnerable in the film that one wonders how much of his real feelings eked their way into the silliness. It’s hard not to love him, even when he shits himself.
And then we do get cameos from the Smoke Signals cast, including Gary Farmer, Irene Bedard and Adam Beach. Celebrated improv comic Colin Mochrie even has a brief role, and it’s so fun to see him play an asshole given his nice guy reputation. Thrilling though that all may be, Simon Baker, who played Young Thomas in the original Smoke Signals, joins the fray as an exaggerated version of himself. Together, he and Lightning spin pure magic on the road to an unexpectedly poignant payoff. Lightning phases from sad clown to self-aware and passionate so gradually, you hardly notice it’s happening. But oh, it is so good when he does.
+Lightning’s vision is smart and so funny; the cast impresses
-Some scenes feel like padding
Directed by Lightning
With Lightning, Cheeseman and Baker
Santa Fe International Film Festival, NR, 102 min.