Wednesday, June 06, 2012

NXNE Review: Slaughter Nick for President

Like most actors, Rob Stewart wanted to have a lasting career that included works that really made a difference. Unfortunately when you are a Canadian actor whose biggest claim to fame is playing detective Nick Slaughter on the short lived show Tropical Heat (aka Sweating Bullets), the quality roles do not always come your way. Now in his late forties, and after 20 years experience in show business, Stewart finds himself back in the confines of his parents' basement wondering where his career went wrong. However, unbeknownst to Stewart, the fame and sense of importance he longed for was there all along…just on another continent.

For the last 15 years, Stewart’s Nick Slaughter has been a source of comfort and hope for Serbians who had to endure the Slobodan Milošević era. Slaughter Nick for Presidents documents Rob Stewart’s two week trip to Serbia with friend Marc Vespi, as he tries to get a better understanding of how this fascination with his Nick Slaughter character came about. From the minute he lands in Serbia, Stewart is taken on a whirlwind ride the likes of which is usually reserved for Hollywood stars such as Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt. He experiences everything from making a commercial, for a possible black market product, to appearing on various television shows and even meeting legendary actor Rade Serbedzija. Like a fish out of water, all Stewart can do is embrace the insanity of “Slaughtermania” that his appearance evokes in the country.

Slaughter Nick for President could have easily become a self-congratulatory piece of propaganda in which Stewart exploits Serbia’s love for him. Instead, the film offers a humble, and often humourous, look at a nation that was in need of a hero. Stewart spends a good portion of the film tracking down individuals, such as student activist Srdja Popovic, who were instrumental in getting Milošević out of power. The film creates a good sense of the harsh conditions Milošević imposed on Serbians during his reign. Many of the people Stewart interviewed talk frankly about friends being killed and how Milošević controlled everything including the local media. Hearing their stories really helps in understanding why a show like Tropical Heat would provide much needed escapist fare.

If there are two minor quibbles to be had with the film, they would have to be in regards to some of the shots used and the subplot with Stewart’s adopted brother. The film could have used a little more care in regards to where the camera was place as the boom microphone appears in few shots which is a bit distracting. In regards to Stewart’s brother, the issues is not so much that he is in the film, but that he is featured so little. Considering that Stewart’s brother is visiting his homeland for the first time, it would have been great to see more of the two of them touring around together. Besides the odd party and one television appearance, Stewart's brother stays in the background for the majority of the film's last act. Again, these are just minor issues in an otherwise enjoyable film.

Slaughter Nick for President is the type of documentary that will have you grinning from ear to ear. Stewart’s natural onscreen charisma helps to keep the film light even when it is tackling some serious subject matter. Whether he is jamming on stage with the punk band Atheist Rap, trying to get some straight answers from a seemingly shady director, or learning about important figures of war, Stewart carries himself with a humble grace that is quite endearing. By the end of the film Stewart will have you thinking that Nick Slaughter for President is not necessarily a bad idea.

Screenings: Saturday June 16th 7:00 pm and Sunday June 17th 12:30 pm at the National Film Board (150 John Street)

Full festival program and ticket information can be found on the North By Northeast (NXNE) Festival website.

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