A documentary by Rob Stewart, Marc Vespi, and Liza Vespi. Unrated. Opens Sunday, November 17, at the Vancity Theatre
In the wake of Rodriguez’s fateful journey to South Africa comes this smaller but surprisingly related trek to postwar Serbia by a Canadian actor who developed a powerful cult without knowing a thing about it.
In the early ’90s, Canadian actor Rob Stewart played, in his own words, “a ridiculous ponytailed beach-bum detective” called Nick Slaughter in a cheap U.S. TV series called Sweating Bullets. In most places, including the former Yugoslavia, the cable show was known as Tropical Heat. Its innocuousness—with gunplay about as realistic as Dirk Diggler’s fight scenes in Boogie Nights—became just the right tonic, complete with plastic umbrella, for a war-battered country.
His character’s name caught on, too, with the phrase Slotera Nika za Predsednika (an obvious rhyme in Serbo-Croatian, and, translated into English, the name of this film) spray-painted on walls by youthful forces opposing dictator Slobodan Milošević’s warmongering, and humourless, ways.
With work trailing off, the ponytail-free actor had moved back in with his Brampton, Ontario, parents when he got a 2009 email from Serbian punk-rockers Atheist Rap. Their leader had written a song about the phenomenon and was inviting Stewart to perform the tune with them at an upcoming festival.
He went, along with pals Marc and Liza Vespi, budding filmmakers who helped him document the journey. Weakest is Stewart’s cliché-ridden narration: the first-person approach has both its naive charms and obvious limitations. (Imagine Searching for Sugar Man directed by Rodriguez himself.)
Fortunately, the frequently overwhelmed actor—swamped by fans and odd job offers (he’s seen shooting a ridiculous ad for a vaguely defined product)—was actually interested in the nonviolent movement that helped unseat Milošević. Despite too much repetition and not enough Tropical clips in its 72 minutes, the doc offers articulate recollections—along with archival footage too little seen in the West—by people who were there. The best revelation, though, is that a hairy chest is still known in Serbia as a “Nick Slaughter”. That’s the kind of fame most presidents can only dream of.