Stegman Is Dead is alive with criminal idiocy

By Jim Slotek

Rating: B-plus

One of the best Canadian contributions to the Tarantino/Coens’ “stupid-criminals” genre, Stegman Is Dead is a grimly absurdist movie that could easily be mistaken for an early work of either.

It is, in fact, a film by first-time feature director David Hyde, whose previous credits leaned toward reality-TV (Ice Road Truckers Canada, Yukon Gold), and who gets the most out of one location and a parade of homicidal nitwits.

That location is the home/film studio of the title character, Stegman, a pornographer looking to make the leap to art films. Needing financing (who doesn’t?), he’s been looking to use old VHS surveillance footage of a bank job as blackmail material against a smalltime mob boss named Don (Michael Ironside), who’d successfully pulled the job a decade earlier.

 Like father like daughter. Michael Edlund's Gus is very good dad, for a career criminal

Like father like daughter. Michael Edlund's Gus is very good dad, for a career criminal

This is all backstory by the time we meet Gus (Michael Eklund), a career criminal looking to break away – not from crime, exactly, but from the ineptitude and peanut pay-offs of Don. Like many women behind the man, Gus’s gum-cracking wife Diane (Andrea del Campo) wants him to achieve more for her and their daughter Angela (Linnea Moffat). In crime. Because that’s her family’s business too.

"If you brought home the bacon, maybe you'd get your sausage eaten," she says, in the kind of non-subtlety in which Stegman Is Dead happily revels.

So, Diane is not impressed when Gus becomes at least the third person to get the call to kill Stegman.

Why two ostensible professionals have already gone radio-silent on this absurdly easy mission is the basis of the movie. What’s happening to a parade of assassins, in a house where their target appears to have already been dispatched?

Answers are en route. In the meantime, sit back and enjoy as guys with names like Lars (Arne MacPherson), Sergei (David Lawrence Brown), and Kruger (Stephen Eric McIntyre) – as well as Don’s own Trump-like idiot sons (Hey! You think that was on purpose?) - break-and-enter their way into an interior full of mysteries (including a life-sized octopus).

To that list, you can add a mystery woman – a lethal Asian named Evy (Bernice Liu) who knows her way around a gun.

Of course, there’ve been many young filmmakers who thought a slapstick array of comical criminals made their movie “Tarantino-esque.” What lifts Stegman Is Dead above that lot is its human face.

The key relationship in the movie is between Gus and his daughter. As winningly portrayed by Moffat, Angela is an effusive, lovable brat who pretends to have a normal child’s limited knowledge of adult things, but is secretly keenly aware of what her family does for a living. And her dad is her hero, so…

It seems absurd to call Stegman Is Dead a morality tale. But Gus and Angela, and his disapproving in-laws (again, not disapproving of his criminality per se) are believable and worth rooting for.

Stegman Is Dead is inconsistently rooted in reality at times. What gunfire there is, is often quite public. And though there is some police response, I’ve often been annoyed at crime filmmakers’ ignorance of the speed with which a gun-call turns into a clusterfutz of media elbowing each other, small armies of first-responders and rubber-neckers.

That would have been a nice touch as Stegman’s home/castle turns into the movie’s ground zero. But that many people in one scene would have probably broke this indie’s budget.

Stegman Is Dead. Directed by David Hyde. Starring Michael Eklund, Bernice Lui and Michael Ironside. Opens Friday, November 17 at Carlton Cinema.