'Stegman Is Dead'
If Quentin Tarantino deserves credit for nothing else, he knew when to get out of the crime comedy genre that launched him to fame. By the end of the 1990s, it was impossible to attend three independent films without at least one of them being a goofball crime comedy filled with eccentric characters bickering over pop culture. It got tired fast. Fortunately for the folks behind ‘Stegman Is Dead’, the genre went away just long enough to feel fun again, especially when executed with the gleeful humor and good will that co-writer/director David Hyde finds here.
Michael Eklund stars as Gus, a low-level professional exhausted by the dummies with guns he surrounds himself with to make a living. He has a family. The game is getting old. Naturally, there’s at least one last job that the guy has to go on, right? Through some hoarse chain-smoking voiceover, Gus sets up his latest bizarre scenario. A local heavy played by Michael Ironside blackmails him into finding a missing porn king named Stegman (Ross McMillan). Of course, nothing is as it seems and yadda yadda yadda… Stegman’s dead (see title), but the tape of his latest tentacle porn project features enough sensitive information that Gus has to find it anyway. Unfortunately, getting that tape is going to require a whole lotta bumbling with guns, hit men, cops, porn stars and all sorts of wacky scenarios that ensure Gus’ bad day keeps getting worse.
On the one hand, ‘Stegman Is Dead’ feels like an early Guy Ritchie movie without British accents and a few decades late from cultural relevance. On the other hand, it’s still a lot of fun. Director/co-writer Hyde clearly loves this kind of movie (especially more than the Reality TV shows he’s been directing, such as ‘Property Brothers’ and ‘Come Dine with Me’) and has so much fun whipping up his own version that it’s hard not to get swept up in the crime comedy absurdity. Some of the jokes might land with a thud and the tastelessness of some of the subplots doesn’t fit with the playful tone, but for the most part the flick flies by in a flurry of nostalgic ’90s entertainment.
It starts with the comic book art opening credits sequence. The movie is never less than three shades away from reality, reveling in its own artificiality while still offering a working class and suburban version of violent movie criminals that vary from lurid to amusingly polite. Colors pop, cameras swirl, the production design is cartoonish but grounded, and there’s always something to keep the eye interested. Characters all fall into genre movie types with gentle twists, from a pair of bickering crime boss sons to an assassin masquerading as a porn star. Performances are all delivered with a wink and a nudge while still sticking to the movie’s heightened reality. You care about these cartoons, no matter how silly the world. (Genre icon Michael Ironside’s presence definitely helps, keeping the picture locked in Movie Land through his imposing screen presence alone.) Although there’s not much here that hasn’t been done before, it also hasn’t been done in a while, at least not this well.
‘Stegman Is Dead’ may not win any awards for originality, tasteful humor or socially redeeming messaging, but it’s a ton of fun in a low key way. The filmmakers make their meager budget a virtue rather than an imposition and lean into the absurdity of their excesses just enough to get away with all the clichés and genre trappings. Somehow, the movie even has a healthy dose of heart and love for these lowlifes beneath the steady pileup of corpses and porn. It’s a good time, provided that you don’t think too hard or expect too much. Those who still enjoy the simple cinematic joys of a guy cracking wise with a gun will find it to be a pleasant surprise.