Hamlet 2

Hamlet 2

Film review by: Witney Seibold


            I appreciate any kind of humor that is able to mix the high with the low. If you give me a witty joke that somehow incorporated both a noisy belch and a reference to Dostoyevsky, I’m a happy guy. Hence, I am a big fan of the Reduced Shakespeare Company, the early standup of Dennis Miller, and the song styling of Tom Lehrer. The new film “Hamlet 2” does require that you know what the play “Hamlet” is, but it doesn’t require anything more than the most rudimentary Junior High understanding of it. I was kind of hoping for something smart and was given, instead, something crass. It’s still a funny film, but still a bit dumb.

            Steve Coogan plays Dana Marschz (pronounced with every consonant in tact), a self-admitted bad actor who teaches drama at a high school in Tucson, AZ. Dana is kind of like a mix of Ed Wood and Homer Simpson. He possesses Wood’s undying gee-whiz enthusiasm for his craft, despite a complete lack of talent. And, like Homer Simpson, is too dumb to observe or practice basic human interaction. He also seems to get dumber as the film progresses. Dana has spent his career at this school staging theatrical adaptations of recent popular films. His last production, “Erin Brockovich,” was not a big hit with the school’s 14-year-old drama critic (Shea Pepe), but he still has unfettered support from his two golden students, Epiphany (Phoebe Strole) a squeaky-clean Christian, and Rand (Skylar Astin) a closeted gay boy.

            When the school’s drama department is in danger of being cut, Dana gets to work on his magnum opus, a sequel to “Hamlet.” He feels that the first “Hamlet” was too much of a downer, so he gives Hamlet a time machine where he can go back in time and save everyone’s lives. Oh, and Jesus and Einstein are picked up along the way. And it’s a musical. And there’s a lot of controversial sexy stuff, including a musical number called “Rock Me, Sexy Jesus.” Dana also inherits a cadre of Latino students who only enrolled in drama because of asbestos threats in their old elective classrooms.

            The play, still in rehearsal, instantly invites controversy, and it shows every indication of being a terrible play. Dana takes the controversy as an opportunity to show how “brave” theater can be. The show’s lead actor is a rebellious gangster type named Octavio (Joseph Julian Soria). Dana’s beleaguered wife Brie (Catherine Keener) is clearly not entertained by any of this muck.

            Elisabeth Shue appears in the film as herself, now a nurse, having given up acting and the Hollywood system years ago. Never mind that she has acted in films as recently as last year. Perhaps this is just a plea from director Andrew Fleming (“Nancy Drew”) to get her working more. And she ought to. Amy Poehler appears as an ACLU lawyer, and is as good as you’d expect.


            The film’s funniest scenes are the ones that riff on the Hamlet myth, expound on artistic theory in general (the speeches made by the Pepe character are excellent, and I’m not just saying that as a critic), and show a knowledge of theater and production that will get under the skin of any theater kid (I was one). When Dana is showing off his Woodian joy of the stage, the film really begins to take off.

Then, sadly, there will be a tactless joke about Dana’s testicles, and the joy will come crashing down. A lot of people giggled at the testicle jokes, but I think the film may have been better without them.

            I also mentioned that Dana seems to get dumber as the film progresses. How is it he seems to have a grip on human interaction at the film’s outset, and then is stupid enough to ask his lawyer “Are you on my side?” even after she’s already said as much. The film, and Dana, could have benefitted with an infusion of very readily-available intelligence. Perhaps the stupidity and crassness was the film’s bid at being “edgy.” It’s not. It’s just periodically crass and stupid.

            The film is still a decent yukfest, though, and the songs, co-written by Pam Brady of “South Park” fame are all dead-on.

Published in: on September 5, 2008 at 8:17 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. a noisy belch and a reference to Dostoyevsky

    cool line

    could try burping the word dostoyevsky?

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