(On Cable TV, February 2019) Following the success of Pulp Fiction in 1994, the late 1990s and early 2000s saw a glut of Tarantino imitators that eventually led to a critical backlash. Despite the major talents that emerged through these dark criminal comedies (Guy Ritchie’s Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects, Doug Liman’s Go, and Paul Anderson’s Hard Eight had enough similarities to Pulp Fiction that they made it easier to put those filmmakers on the map), there were far many more filmmakers looking for projects and taking the Tarantino route for easier financial backing. It’s now been more than twenty years since Pulp Fiction, but filmmakers are still working in the same sandbox—as Stegman is Dead/The Hitman Never Dies clearly shows. With a script that seems assembled in a blender from extremely familiar subgenre elements (pornographic film producer, Asian girl, one neurotic hitman, a second competitive hitman, a precocious kid, convoluted plotting), the film becomes a muddled example of what happens when someone goes Tarantino crazy without quite understanding the level of craft that goes into making the entire thing work. As a mixture of the genre’s best hits, Stegman is Dead never manages to become anything other than a familiar rework of overdone elements. The black criminal comedy is not good for earnestness when it’s handled so carelessly: Nothing is to be taken seriously when everyone’s got a gun in their purse and when child endangerment is treated so casually. There are attempts here at big strong character, but they don’t really work and the plot is so convoluted that only makes sense in its own logical frame of reference. Oh, I could watch Berenice Liu all day, but that’s not the point—the point is that even despite my best intentions in liking a crime comedy shot in Manitoba, I’m still left disappointed at the final result. Stegman is Dead is not that bad (I did watch it to the end, which is more than I can say about some other Canadian movies), but it’s underwhelming partly because I can see far more potential in here left unrealized.