HAMLET 2 (2008)
Starring Steve Coogan, Catherine Keener, Amy Poehler, David Arquette, Elisabeth Shue, Joseph Julian Soria, Skylar Astin, Phoebe Strole, Melonie Diaz, Marshall Bell, Josh Berry and Arnie Pandoja.
Screenplay by Andrew Fleming and Pam Brady.
Directed by Andrew Fleming.
Distributed by Focus Features. 92 minutes. Rated R.
The often-hysterical Hamlet 2 asks and sort of answers the burning question: Is a passionate desire to be a star a worthy replacement for talent?
In a modern America where people are getting their fifteen minutes for stupid things like reality television, being related to someone with money, sex tapes and acting the fool on YouTube, it’s not that unreasonable a question. Hell, we are even electing Presidents because we’d like to have a beer with them, not because of their knowledge of the issues or their leadership skills.
So, maybe, in today’s world, the question is not all that far-fetched.
Not that this goofy and delightfully anti-PC comedy probably is searching for such wide-ranging sociological implications. It’s trying to be funny, that’s all. The fact that it tips some sacred cows and throws a pie in the face of intolerant morality is just a side bonus.
British actor-comedian Steve Coogan plays (with a spot-on American accent) Dana Marschz – a name which is unsurprisingly mispronounced by everyone. Dana is an actor in his mid-to-late 30s who has had some very minor success (a herpes remedy commercial is about the tops on his résumé), probably due to the fact that he has no real particular talent at acting. However Dana is optimistic (or is that delusional?) that stardom will come to him.
Dana is definitely a close cousin to Christopher Guest’s character of Corky St. Clair in the classic comedy Waiting for Guffman.
In the meantime, Dana has taken a job as a drama teacher in a high school in Tucson, Arizona. He has a drama club with two members (Skylar Astin and Phoebe Strole – both from the hit Broadway musical Spring Awakening) – one is a closeted (even to himself) gay and the other a closeted bigot. Dana has hit on the idea of doing theatrical performances of popular films like Erin Brockovich and is constantly getting roasted in the school paper by a nine-year-old drama critic.
His wife (Catherine Keener) is miserable in Tucson and they have to take in a lug-headed boarder (David Arquette) to pay the rent.
The school district decides to close the drama department at the end of the school year, and at the same time saddles him with the worst delinquents in the school – who are given drama as a punishment. Dana is not really able to reach most of his new students, but his unending enthusiasm and love for the arts eventually rubs off on them. Dana decides that he must do something dramatic to save his program.
The original idea is to write his own play – a sequel to arguably the greatest tragedy in literature. Dana had never been happy with the original finale, which he considered a “downer.” So, despite the fact that all of the characters died at the end, Dana goes about putting together a new play based on the play, but also his strained relationships with his own father. The play turns into an odd mish-mash of Shakespearean characters, greasers, musical numbers, a time machine, a gay men’s chorus, cell phones and even a cameo by Jesus Christ.
Of course, when word of his play gets out, the morality police go out of their way to shut it down. However, with the help of his students, a hard-nosed ACLU lawyer (a nice cameo by SNL star Amy Poehler) and former-film-star-turned-fertility-clinic-nurse Elisabeth Shue (doing a good-natured parody of herself), Dana is able to achieve his dreams.
It is all done with such silly good humor that Hamlet 2 should not offend anyone – which is not to say that it won’t. There are some people who are not happy unless they are being self-righteously pious.
However, despite it’s giddy determination to mock everyone and everything – including the effeminate, Jesus freaks, the handicapped, gang bangers, trailer trash, ACLU lawyers, the shy, the mute, the bigoted, the stupid, the intellectuals, actors, critics, parents, children, people with low sperm counts, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, nurses, married people, school board members and particularly the city of Tucson, Arizona (whose Chamber of Commerce will undoubtedly be wanting an apology) – it is done with such obvious love and respect and a complete lack of mean-spiritedness that it is hard to not give the makers a pass. As with their main character, there is nothing cynical or jaded about Hamlet 2. It is just in love with the idea of entertaining – and will do anything it can in that pursuit.
Much like South Park (a show which co-writer Pam Brady worked on for years), there is a scattershot gonzo determination to take on everything. If you mock all, how can one accuse you of singling their particular group out for ridicule? It’s rather brilliant when you think of it.
Besides, America today has gotten way too thin-skinned. Everyone is whining that people are picking on them. Moral indignation is boring.
Hamlet 2, on the other hand, is never boring.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2008 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: August 22, 2008.