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Awesome: 3.33%
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4 reviews, 6 user ratings

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Hamlet 2
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Frailty, Thy Name is Coogan"
4 stars

If you go to the movies with any degree of regularity, you have no doubt experienced more than your fair share of movies involving passionate and dedicated teachers who to instill a love of education into their troubled students and who are usually fired by hateful administrators for their troubles, though not before finally getting through to their once-apathetic students. Even if you have somehow managed to avoid actually seeing any of these movies, you can probably still recite their high points by heart--the moment when the teacher finally gets through to the extra-troubled kid in class and helps to solve any and all of their personal problems, the moment in which the teacher is dressed down by the principal and/or the school board for using unorthodox teaching methods, the moment in which a silly misunderstanding leads to the teacher being unfairly terminated and, of course, the moment when the once-troubled students demonstrate in some way that their live have been changed forever for the better, a revelation that will no doubt serve the teacher well while he or she is sitting around collecting food stamps. In every one of these movies, of course, the teacher is a brilliant and caring individual who is only interested in the welfare of the kids--the kind of educator that everyone wishes that they could have had when they were in school but who never seems to turn up in a real classroom--and the noble ideas that they have to offer are so suffused with the milk of human wisdom that you’ll wonder why they haven’t be made a permanent part of the national curriculum. “Hamlet 2,” on the other hand, is a film about a teacher who saw a lot of those movies and fancies himself as a maverick following in their shoes, lacking only talent, intelligence, empathy, the ability to inspire or even basic motor skills. As someone who has sat through too many noble educator movies in the past, the notion of one that chooses to brutally mocks the genre is a welcome one indeed and while it doesn’t completely succeed at its intentions, it contains enough funny moments to almost make you overlook the fact that it doesn’t.

Steve Coogan stars as Dana Marschz, a would-be actor whose career never quite made it beyond the occasional bit part and a commercial for herpes medication. As a result, he is now following the same path as so many other failed actors--he now works as a drama teacher in a small high school outside of Tucson for a class that consists of two teacher’s pets--potential closet case Rand (Skylar Astin) and ultra-religious Epiphany (Phoebe Strole)--and a bunch of other students who seem to attend only to see just how ridiculously he will behave each day. (As a former drama student, I can tell you that this aspect of the film rings with 100% accuracy.) Alas, poor Dana--while he has the zeal and enthusiasm in spades, the sad truth of the matter is that he isn’t very good at his job; his attempts to bond with his students tend to wind up with someone getting knocked unconscious, his “plays” are nothing but staged versions of popular movies such as “Erin Brockovich” and when the school paper runs a negative review, he sobs to his students and his increasingly exasperated wife (Catherine Keener) that “I feel like I’ve been raped in the face!” Despite all this, Dana has somehow convinced himself that he is a great teacher and therefore, it comes as a massive shock to him when the principal (Marshall Bell) informs him that he is being let go at the end of the year and that the drama department, such as it is, will be scrapped.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), Dana is not a quitter and after a brief bought of self-pity, he hits upon a brilliant idea--he will write and stage an original production that is so powerful and overwhelming that it will inspire the community to band together to save the drama department. However, when his opus turns out to be “Hamlet 2,” a bizarre and weirdly autobiographical sequel to Shakepeare’s immortal tragedy that involves, if I recall correctly, the characters traveling back in time and somehow meeting up with Jesus in a series of adventures that are always strange, often sacrilegious and often staged as musical numbers featuring tunes like “Rock Me Sexy Jesus,” “You’re As Gay As The Day Is Long” and, of course, “Raped in the Face,” and a copy of the script reaches the principal’s desk, Dana is fired and the show is scrapped. Undaunted, Dana and the kids move on to an abandoned warehouse and endeavor to put on “Hamlet 2” despite the increasingly vocal protests of many in town. Eventually, the ACLU becomes involved, the show is thrust into the national spotlight and as opening night nears, there is a real question as to whether it will go on at all of if outside forces will shut it down for good.

Basically, “Hamlet 2” is working with two basic comedic concepts--the idea of doing a spoof of inspiring educator films with a complete doofus at the center and the play itself, which resembles an unholy blend of “Springtime for Hitler” and the complete works of Ken Russell. When it sticks to the former, it is often quite inspired in the ways that it skewers the familiar conventions in weirdly unexpected ways--I love the scene where Dana visit’s the parents of a student who has been told he can’t participate in the play and instead of being the poor, dumb and anti-art people he has come to expect, they turn out to be thoughtful and literate people who want their son out because they feel the show is badly written and virtually incoherent. However, when the screenplay by Pam Brady & Andrew Fleming (the latter also directed) shifts away from that aspect to concentrate on the upcoming premiere of the play and the attendant hoopla/controversy, the film begins to lose its focus and become bogged down and confused. For one thing, the mechanics of the show, at least the portions that we get to see, are so elaborate that they wind up distracting from whatever humor they are supposed to convey--how is it possible that a guy with no money, no discernible stagecraft skills and no basic sense of balance could stage a show elaborate enough to put your standard Cirque du Soleil nonsense to shame? A bigger problem is that the screenplay can never decide whether Dana has actually managed to write a brilliantly funny and entertaining show or if it is one of those things like the aforementioned “Springtime for Hitler” that is so cluelessly awful that the people watching it mistake its achingly awful sincerity and in-your-face offensiveness for wonderfully droll and subtle satire and declare it a masterpiece on those levels. Either approach would be fine, I suppose, but the film tries to have it both ways and as a result, the final scenes are more of a muddle than they needed to be.

What finally puts “Hamlet 2” over the top, at least to the point where I can sort of recommend it (provided that you have already made the time to see the much funnier likes of “Pineapple Express,” “Tropic Thunder” and “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”) is the lead performance from British comedian Steve Coogan as Dana. Although he is probably best known to American audiences these days for his appearance as the beleaguered and short-lived director in “Tropic Thunder,” he has been carving out a career for himself by specializing in finely-honed satirical portraits of smug, self-satisfied twerps both in television with his great character Alan Partridge and in films such as “24 Hour Party People,” “Coffee & Cigarettes” and “Tristram Shandy” (the latter two actually had him playing himself, or at least an exceedingly unflattering version thereof). Although his work here is far broader than those other performances, it shares with them a certain fearlessness and a willingness to come across as an idiotic cretin without any redeeming factors to speak of other than the fact that he clearly doesn’t know how to behave in any other way. Whether he is whining is self-pity over any and all perceived slights, ripping into the critic for the school paper for a bad review or rocking it onstage as Sexy Jesus, he holds nothing back and the result is a performance that is so far out there that it achieves a crude sort of genius. There is also a funny and charmingly self-effacing supporting turn from the always-welcome Elisabeth Shue as. . .well, as Elisabeth Shue--it turns out that she has grown so sick of the rat race in Hollywood that she has moved out to Arizona and is quietly working as a nurse in a fertility clinic. She may not win the Oscar that she deserved for “Leaving Las Vegas” for her work here but if the Academy institutes a prize for “Best Performance By A Good Sport In A Supporting Role,” she has it in the bag.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17015&reviewer=389
originally posted: 08/22/08 00:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2008 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/01/13 David Hollingsworth funny, but a little too offensive. 3 stars
4/01/09 Mack Finally, a feature length movie as funny as its trailer. 5 stars
1/11/09 Shaun Wallner Very Interesting 4 stars
1/09/09 james brianorndorf knows sweet fuck all about movies. ignore everything he says. 4 stars
8/26/08 Noexit Who wrote this critque? Seriously, proofreading isn't overly time comsuming. 3 stars
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  22-Aug-2008 (R)
  DVD: 23-Dec-2008


  DVD: 23-Dec-2008

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