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Monday, September 8, 2008

Review: Hamlet 2 (2008)

* * 1/2

Director: Andrew Flemming
Starring: Steve Coogan, Catherine Keener, Elisabeth Shue

I anticipate having “Rock Me Sexy Jesus” running through my head for, well, a while but at least it’s usurped “Waterloo,” which had been running on a near-nonstop loop through my head since seeing Mama Mia! in July. As for the rest of Hamlet 2, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure what to make of it. Before seeing it I had seen an ad which described it as the next Napoleon Dynamite and thought, “That... is not a compliment,” and now that I’ve seen the movie I think, “That... was actually pretty accurate.”

Steve Coogan stars as Dana Marschz, a failed actor turned high school drama teacher who fancies himself a cross between Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society and Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds. As a teacher, Marschz isn’t much good, insisting on putting on stage versions of films like Erin Brockovich, which inevitably get terrible reviews from the school’s merciless critic and play no small part in the planned demise of the drama department. In an effort to drum up interest in drama, Marschz writes his own play hoping that it will be a hit and either save his job at the school or act as a launching pad into stardom. That play is the titular Hamlet 2, which involves a time machine, the characters in Hamlet, Jesus, Albert Einstein and... well, you’ve really got to see it to believe it.

The film has a great many flaws. It’s funny, yes, but it’s funny like “random” rather than funny like “clever.” I mean, when someone says that he feels as if he’s just been “raped in the face,” you laugh (if you laugh) because it comes out of nowhere, not because it’s witty. About 3/4ths of the way through, Amy Poehler shows up to play a character who seems to be composed solely of this kind of humour – I mean, if anyone can explain to me what “I’m married to a Jew so I’ve got nothing to lose,” actually means, I’d greatly appreciate it.

There are other characters who present problems. Catherine Keener co-stars as Marschz’s wife, who starts off as hilariously frustrated by her situation – idiot husband, money troubles, inability to conceive – but just gets so unnecessarily mean towards the end that it drags the movie down and brings the laughs to a screeching halt. The students, too, present a problem as some come across as sincere, while others are played as overtly self-aware parody. This mixture is hardly surprising as the film itself seems to switch tone constantly, often veering into the sentimental territory it’s supposed to be mocking. I'm surprised to learn that writer/director Andrew Flemming is also the writer and director of the exquisite 1999 comedy Dick, an infinitely funnier and infinitely better film than this one. That he obviously has experience making smart comedy makes this film all the more disappointing.

Hamlet 2 isn’t entirely without merit. Steve Coogan is great as the attention-starved teacher and I particularly enjoyed the back and forth between him and his pint-sized critic. The scenes of the play itself are fantastic, but I wish there was more of it because I would love to know how the various vignettes that we see are tied together. I would also have liked it if it didn’t take so long to finally get to the play. All in all, this is a fairly funny movie with a lot of fat that could have been trimmed.

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