Starring British comic Steve Coogan, “Hamlet 2” is the tale of Dana Marschz, a wacked-out high school drama teacher rejected by his peers in Hollywood, floundering in a dysfunctional marriage and lambasted by a freshman drama critic for directing dull, derivative plays.
DIRECTED BY Andrew Fleming
SCREENPLAY BY Andrew Fleming and Pam Brady
STARRING Steve Coogan, Catherine Keener, Phoebe Strole, David Arquette, Elisabeth Shue, Joseph Julian Soria, Amy Poehler and Skylar Astin
RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes
When we meet him, he is teaching a class of motley students, most of them Latinos, who at first have no interest in performing. When he is informed by the jock-oriented principal that budget cuts will eliminate his program after the current semester, the mousy critic advises the forlorn teacher to mount something more original than a stage version of “Erin Brockovich.”
That’s when the bedraggled mentor pens a new version of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” which really bears little resemblance to the classic. The vague and ludicrous premise presents Hamlet as a time traveler who returns to give the proceedings a happy ending. No dead bodies littering the stage in the last act, it turns into a musical with an appearance by one Jesus Christ, who walks on water as the Gay Men’s Chorus sings an original tune called “Rock Me Sexy Jesus.”
Ups and downs
Summoning some of the gimmicks employed in “The Producers,” “Waiting for Guffman” and a wee bit of “Fame,” director Andrew Fleming and co-writer Pam Brady, a “South Park” alumna, have created a hit-or-miss parody that is alternately delightful and flat. It’s catch as catch can with this end-of-summer sendup likely to induce a handful of howls and basket of winces and moans, even from an audience eager to sop up satiric gags.
Like errant Frisbees aimed at our heads, morsels of humor sail in and out of range in a work whose parts are more tasty than the experience as a whole. Call it, if you wish, an imperfect, wildly uneven satiric meal.
Catherine Keener shows up as our buffoonish hero’s wife, but her comic potential is cut short; though we may savor her brief moments on screen, we may wonder what David Arquette is doing as her live-in lover. He has nothing to do, nothing to say. The guy next door could have played his part to perfection.
Some of the funniest moments belong to Amy Poehler, who plays Cricket Feldstein, an ACLU attorney defending the right of the production to go on as scheduled despite the objections of the principal and his censoring cohorts. Though the movie belongs to Coogan, it’s Poehler who steals the show every moment she is front and center.
Elisabeth Shue shows up as herself; the actress who shone in her Oscar-nominated role in “Leaving Las Vegas” is now a nurse in Tucson, where the movie is set. Though her appearance supports the film’s idea that fine talent goes unrecognized, she also is mere window dressing in a movie filled with promising but largely undeveloped ideas.
Not all bad
It is unfair to regard “Hamlet 2” as a bust; with humorous efficiency, it aims at and occasionally hits some worthy targets like community ignorance and prejudice toward Latinos. It also evokes moments of compassion for a disheveled hero who not only has the makings of an inspirational teacher but sincerely loves his craft. And it does feature some laugh-out-loud moments.
Still, it is difficult to ignore the shortcomings of a story that amounts to little more than a scattershot satire.