Tribeca Film Festival 2023- “Hey, Viktor!”

The mockumentary has been around for decades, but it was Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” that set the tone for actual performers playing over-the-top versions of themselves and their everyday lives. Cody Lightning’s “Hey, Viktor!” is that type of fake documentary with Lightning playing a sillier version of his own self trying to find interest in his screenplay for “Smoke Signals 2”.

Former child actor Cody Lightning is a man with a big personality and bad luck. Cody rides the long-faded (and very minor) glory of his small role in the 1998 hit “Smoke Signals”.

After a life of alcoholism and continuing bad decisions, his friends and family stage an intervention. In a scene that continues the film’s darkly comedic tone, the intervention goes predictably wrong, but takes an unexpected turn when it energizes Cody to make a final push at getting his film made.

What follows is a wild path to self-reflection and destruction that desires to be funny and heartwarming, but the film tries too hard too often. The drama fails to hit and the comedy is not funny.

What Cody Lightning’s film gets right is its sense of dedication to friends through the character of Kate (Hannah Cheesman). No matter how off the rails Cody gets, Kate cares deeply for him and is dedicated to his wellbeing.

Cheesman does well in the role, creating a kind and loving woman, portraying someone grounded in a film riddled with dysfunction.

Save for a somewhat clever running gag where the actors from the original “Smoke Signals” now work regular jobs, “Hey, Viktor!” falls terribly short in the comedy department.

As the adage claims, “Drama is easy. Comedy is hard.” Successfully mixing the two is the most difficult of tasks for any filmmaker. The blurring of Lightning’s actual life with his on-screen persona doesn’t work, as the real file actor isn’t well enough known to the audience. We know nothing about the real Lightning, ergo it is impossible to find his character funny. All that exists is an alcoholic smart-ass who alienates almost everyone. The premise doesn’t work.

There could have been a heartbreaking empathy towards Lightning’s character, but the film just can’t get there. The screenplay (co-written with Samuel Miller) barely gives a setup to who the real Cody Lightning is or where he came from. The film throws the audience in and tries to steer its allegiance towards the self-destructive actor, instead of allowing a natural growth toward any sympathies.

By the time we get to a final moment where Cody Lightning (too quickly) bears his soul and the film his character makes becomes a mirror to his reality, there is no previous emotional connection to make the moment land anywhere near profound.

While it is to be understood that this film is not to be taken seriously as a true sequel to Chris Eyre’s 1998 Indie classic, Lightning could have (should have?) used some of the picture to speak to the Native American way of life in the modern era, something Eyre’s film did so well.

“Hey, Viktor!” is certainly not an awful film, as it is obvious that Cody Lightning’s intentions come from the heart. He seems like a man who wants to live his truth, make peace with those he may have wronged in his life, and conquer the demons that held him back all these years.

Or maybe that is just a part of his film persona. We don’t know and there lies the problem.


Hey, Viktor!

Written by Samuel Miller & Cody Lightning

Directed by Cody Lightning

Starring Cody Lightning, Hannah Cheesman, Simon Baker, Colin Mochrie

NR, 102 Minutes, Lightning Mill/North Country Cinema