Sunday, August 31, 2008

Hamlet 2 (2008)

Do you like Stephen Coogan? The answer to that question will go a long way in determining how much you enjoy "Hamlet 2." Coogan plays Dana Marschz, a failed actor turned failed high school drama instructor. After a series of misguided film-to-play adaptations ("Erin Brockovich") starring the only two students in his class, Marschz unexpectedly inherits a much larger group of students. The reason? The school's massive financial cuts eliminated most of the other electives, causing a group of about 20 or so kids to randomly take up theater. The kids are mostly burn-outs and wannabe thugs, who have no actual interest in theater.

Marschz welcomes the challenge of teaching the unwilling, uninterested group of kids; fancying himself the kind of inspirational teacher you would find in films like “Dead Poet's Society” & “Mr. Holland's Opus.” The new kids think that he's an idiot, and they're right, but it's his stupidity that prevents him from giving up when faced with the sour news from the school principal that the drama department is going to be next on the chopping block. He seeks out advice from the one person whose opinion he really trusts, the 9th grade school newspaper reporter who has panned all of his productions. The little critic convinces Dana that if he could just put on an original play, and make it the best possible play he could write, then maybe, he would be able to save theater.

Marschz pours all of his time and effort into writing a sequel to “Hamlet,” that incorporates Jesus, Einstein, Time Travel, Doo-Woop songs, and his own father issues into what is ultimately a very politically incorrect production. The kids become inspired though, the school board becomes incensed, and the neighborhood controversy that arises around the play leads to a First Amendment lawsuit, spearheaded by Amy Poeler's ACLU caricature. Somewhere along the way, Elizabeth Shue plays herself as a retired actress-turned-nurse, and there's also a subplot concerning Dana's wife (Catherine Keener) leaving him for a guy named Gary (played by David Arquette,) an embarrassment by anyone's standards. The only real reason that plot line even exists is to paint Marschz as the biggest possible loser imaginable. Which leads to the ultimate question. Will Dana be able to overcome the neighborhood, the critics, and the school board, or is he as big of a loser as everyone thinks he is?

For all it's references to “inspirational teacher” movies, “Hamlet 2 is probably closest to Carl Reiner'sSummer School.” That's not a bad thing since “Summer School” has managed to live on, not because of a strong story, but because it's funny. Perhaps the same will be true for “Hamlet 2,” whose big laughs and awkwardly squirmy Steve Coogan performance deserves a better story. Where “Summer School” was aimed at random teenage youth, this film really is geared more towards adults. It's satire of modern theater and conservative/liberal views is more likely to garner a “that's gay” response from teenagers than a laugh.

At any rate, this movie really tanked at the box office, even after Focus Feature's intense “from the producers of 'Little Miss Sunshine' and 'Election'” campaign, not to mention the comparisons to “Napoleon Dynamite” & “South Park.” Hopefully, it will have a better run on home video, if not, well then, that's just Cuckoo Bananas.

I screened “Hamlet 2” at the T-Town on 8/26/08 at 11:00. It was a “tech” screening.

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