© 2008 Ray Wong
It's irrelevant; it's satirical; it's rather dumb. But the charm of Hamlet 2 is that it doesn't really take itself too seriously. And neither should you.
Dana Marschz (Steve Coogan) is a failed actor who, according to the old adage "those can't do, teach," becomes a high school drama teacher in Tucson, Arizona. He's not very good at that either. He's broke and his wife, Brie (Catherine Keener), despises their lives in Tucson. When the school board tries to shut down the drama department, Dana decides the only way he can save it is by putting on the greatest show on Earth.
But not only is Dana a bad actor, he can't write either. Eventually, he comes up with a preposterous musical called Hamlet 2, in which Hamlet uses a time machine to return to his past trying to save everyone and change everything. In the process, Hamlet meets an eclectic group of historical figures including Jesus. The play is so bad that even his students have a hard time believing they can pull it off, but Dana marches on. When the school board decides to shut down the play for its obscenity, Dana fights it with the help of an ACLU lawyer Cricket (Amy Poehler). Together, they're determined to put on one of the most offensive plays in history.
Steve Coogan (Hot Fuzz) is one of UK's most prolific comedian-actors. As the perpetual loser, Coogan is at once repulsively stupid and affectingly charming. His character truly is clueless, but at the same time he seems to have real heart and believe in what he does. Coogan is apt in portraying such a doofus. Sometimes his performance is too over the top even for such a comedy, but he really does carry the film well.
Catherine Keener (Into the Wild) actually has a small part as Dana's wife Brie. She's self-absorbed, distracted, irritated, and disapproving. She does a fine job but her role is too small to make any real impact. David Arquette (The Tripper) also has a small part playing their boarder, Gary. His character is just a dumb ass, and Arquette is very good at playing a dumb ass. Amy Poehler (Baby Mama) stands out as the zany, overzealous ACLU lawyer and I wish she had more to do -- her role is hilarious. Elisabeth Shue (Hide and Seek) plays herself as a burned out actress-turn-nurse. Her small role is amusingly self-referential and self-deprecating.
The young cast, who play the students, are not bad either. Skylar Astin, in his debut film role, is really funny and plays his role as the "sexually confused" drama queen excellently. Phoebe Strole (Descent) is also very good as the naive actress wannabe who plays the stage version of Erin Brockovich as if she was a hooker. Joseph Julian Soria (Fast & Furious) is dutiful as the Latino misfit who finds his true calling as an actor. And Melonie Diaz (Be Kind, Rewind) is smart and funny as the bitchy drama student, Ivonne.
Written by Pam Brady of South Park fame and director-writer Andrew Fleming (Nancy Drew), the script is inconsistent. At times, it's a stroke of genius, mocking everything from Hollywood to high school musicals. At times, the story drags and the jokes aren't funny at all. The middle part of the film lacks focus, and the plot goes all over the place. They spend way too much time concerning us with Dana's domestic life (but still, in the process, not able to give Keener and Arquette more to do). Some of the dialogue is really cheesy, and some plot element is ridiculously cliched.
But once the film comes to the final act, the pace picks up and the plot turns golden. The satirical nature of the final reels is spot on and hilarious. There's also great energy near the end and, surprisingly, the "horrible" musical they put on is better than a lot of actual musicals I've seen on Broadway lately. The tunes are catchy and the production stupendous. Perhaps the director goes overboard with that (as if a high school production really can pull of an audio-visual feast like that), but in the spirit of the film, it's too delicious to even question the authenticity. This is, after all, a comedy. Fleming's done a great job pulling the film together toward the end.
Despite its obvious flaws and the soggy pace in the middle, Hamlet 2 is funny, entertaining, and culturally relevant even if the comedy itself is irrelevant. The performances are solid all around and the ending, like the climactic scenes in Hairspray, is going to put a smile on your face in a rather Hamlet-like depraved way.
Stars: Steve Coogan, Catherine Keener, Joseph Julian Soria, Skylar Astin, Phoebe Strole, Melonie Diaz, David Arquette, Elisabeth Shue, Amy Poehler
Director: Andrew Fleming
Writer: Pam Brady, Andrew Fleming
MPAA Rating: R for language, sexual references, brief nudity and drug content
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Script – 6
Performance – 8
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 7
Editing – 7
Production – 7
Total – 7.4 out of 10