Hamlet 2

Reviewed By Lybarger
Posted 08/25/08 19:40:19

"The slings and arrows of outrageous folly."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Like its title, 'Hamlet 2' shouldn’t work.

The idea of making a film about a frustrated actor who mounts a musical sequel to one of Shakespeare’s most revered tragedies seems a little too silly to be believed and possibly not clever enough to sustain an entire feature.

Fortunately, British comic Steve Coogan (“24 Hour Party People”) performs a feat of alchemy by making the seemingly flimsy setup become sturdy as the final credits roll.

Coogan stars as Dana Marschz, a Manitoba-born thespian whose few professional roles are probably happily left off of (a few run through an opening monologue). Needing support other than the marijuana dealing his wife Brie (Catherine Keener)did on the side (She exclaims, “I was a dealer, not a pusher!”), Dana has become struggling high school teacher in Tucson.

Just as his career progress is inversely proportional to his obsessive love of the craft, his teaching has inspired indifference at best and derision at worst. Even the school paper runs scathing critiques of his plays.

While he has a few devoted pupils, Dana ekes out a living mounting staged reproductions of popular films. Watching teenagers repeating almost word-for-word the screenplay for “Erin Brockovich” gets the film off to a giddy start.

Understandably, the school is looking for a way to save money. Dana’s underwhelming drama department appears to be an ideal place to cut.

In order to save his career and to emulate the teachers in movies like “Mr. Holland’s Opus” and “Dead Poets Society,” Dana feverish tries to write something original. The result is a mesmerizingly bizarre musical called “Hamlet 2,” that brings new closure to the Bard’s play, while also addressing every once of neuroses running through Dana’s deluded brain. Thanks to an accidental dose of LSD, the play also features a steady stream of obscenities that are guaranteed to get Dana arrested if it is staged at all.

You might ask, “How can you make a sequel to a play in which all of the major characters are dead before the curtain falls?” Dana has an amusing answer, even if it makes no sense.

Like the protagonist, director Andrew Fleming (“Dick”) appears to get by on sheer force of will. By never surrendering to good taste, Fleming and co-screenwriter Pam Brady (a “South Park” veteran who also co-wrote “Team American: World Police”) generate enough vulgarity and jaw-dropping silliness to make up for any holes in the storyline.

If one gag, falls flat, two others quickly make up for it. You wouldn’t think that casting Elizabeth Shue as herself (working as a nurse because acting gigs have dried up), but Fleming and Brady actually take the idea and run with it. When Dana drags her into his class, he discovers to his horror that his students are too young to remember her. Shue earns so bonus points for being able to poke fun at herself this way.

All of this might naught if it weren’t for Coogan’s amusingly eager performance. The gags involving Dana’s relentless determination in the face of common sense might have gotten old if Coogan didn’t give Dana just enough dignity to make viewers care if he actually completes his loony masterpiece.

It’s also interesting that Dana’s tastes are remarkably philistine for a drama teacher. He gushes to Shue over her performance in “Adventures in Babysitting” and doesn’t seem to realize that the films that driven him into the profession aren’t of lasting quality.

The supporting cast get some decent moments of their own. David Arquette is a riot as Dana and Brie’s roommate, who says almost nothing because apparently his head is free from the torments of thought. Amy Poehler also has some choice moments as a rigid ACLU attorney who defends the play regardless of its astonishing ineptitude.

The musical numbers by Fleming, Brady and composer Ralph Sall are a scream, and stick though the closing credits for a final number that the rest of the audience might miss as they’re leaving.

I could deride the film for its thin, patchy story and one-note humor, but the film is strangely redeemed by its relentless vulgarity and sacrilege.

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