I have a confession to make: I have never seen Smoke Signals (1998), the landmark Indigenous-led film upon which today’s movie Hey Viktor! is based. This is what prevented me from screening Cody Lightning’s new mockumentary during its festival run last fall, but life gets in the way and I still haven’t gotten around to it. As it turns out, seeing Smoke Signals is not a necessary prerequisite for enjoying one of the most heartfelt and hilarious films to ever come out of the recent Indigenous new wave of cinema.

Cody plays a fictionalised version of himself who is down on his luck 20+ years after his breakout role as “Young Viktor” in the famous 1998 movie. He has failed to launch as both an actor and functional adult, only being able to land roles in porn and pro-fracking ads despite the best efforts of his manager and only friend Kate (Hannah Cheesman). He passes his downtime drinking and watching a worn-out VHS copy of Smoke Signals, longing for what could have been.

When a documentary crew led by shady producer Craig Broner (Colin Mochrie) starts following his day-to-day life, Cody believes his star may be back on the rise, only to be blindsided when it’s revealed that the whole project is in the service of an intervention, one that fails miserably when Cody responds by going on a drunken bender. With his career in shambles and his ex-wife (Teneil Whiskeyjack) planning to move their kids to the states, Cody decides the only way to right his path is to direct his lifelong dream-project: SMOKE SIGNALS 2!

The good news is: he has funding from German arms dealer and Smoke Signals super-fan Chomsky (Phil Burke). The bad news is: the funding is conditional on Cody being able to reunite the original cast for the project and failure may have (ahem) deadly consequences. Further complicating matters is that most of the original cast hate Cody’s guts, especially his former child co-star Simon (Simon Baker). With returning the money not an option due to Cody losing $20k of it on a losing gambling streak, the ragtag producer endeavours to pull cinematic magic out of a tattered hat, lest he loses what little of his career (or life) he has left.

Cody Lightning proves the benefits of baring your soul for the camera and throwing caution repeatedly into the wind. His onscreen avatar is haunted by the outsized role a famous bit-part has played in his life. It’s only by confronting these celluloid demons that he can finally transcend Viktor and truly become Cody for the first time.

Lest this all begin to sound too heavy, Lightning is determined to make this journey in the most R-rated way possible in a tale loaded with drunken debauchery, mayhem, and an unexpected amount of male nudity. He has a lot of fun with the format, even making the camera guys part of the action (a particularly hilarious scene finds one of the cameramen arrested and handcuffed with his rig still on!). The cast brings their A-game and some of the best moments come from Smoke Signals veterans making meta-cameos (although one wonders if the invites for Evan Adams and Tantoo Cardinal got lost in the mail).

Boisterous and rudely funny, Hey Viktor! wears its heart on its sleeve and its mouth in the gutter. I may not have needed to see Smoke Signals to enjoy this one, but now I have double the reason to seek it out and screen it back-to-back with its spiritual sequel. Highly recommended.


Hey Viktor! releases theatrically in Canada on March 15

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