Hamlet 2 (2008)
Release Date: August 27th, 2008 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Andrew Fleming Actors: Steve Coogan, Catherine Keener, Phoebe Strole, Melonie Diaz, Joseph Julian Soria, Skylar Astin, Natalie Amenula, David Arquette, Elisabeth Shue, Amy Poehler
amlet 2” is bound to field comparisons to “Napoleon Dynamite,” “Little Miss Sunshine,” or the plenty of other films that have been made to highlight the cinematic appeal of human oddities. It is composed of similarly chaotic characters in unusual situations, boiled to a comedic extreme. Dysfunction and eccentricity are the fuel for this experiment, but it also takes the extra step other comparable comedies have shied away from – the R-rating. Vulgar at times and offensive at others, it keeps up a steady flow of laughs with easy exploitations of race, religion, and general decency. And it is indeed funny.
“Hamlet 2” is set in the place where dreams go to die: Tucson, Arizona. Failed actor Dana Marschz (Steve Coogan) has turned to teaching drama class as a means of survival, regularly contending with his self-acknowledgment of utter failure even in that compensatory position. His former-drug-dealer wife (Catherine Keener) offers little stability to his turbulent life, in which Dana must deal with the possibility of being infertile, the reviews of a harsh theater critic, overenthusiastic students, and a Principal who doesn’t appreciate the fine arts.
When the school electives are cut down, drama class suddenly becomes the only choice, filling Dana’s room with unruly and indocile students. As he somehow manages to draw talent out of the most irreverent pupils, a fiscal crisis hurls the arts programs onto the chopping block, shutting down the program for good. But in a last attempt to nurture his own artistic struggles, as well as the hidden aptitudes of his ramshackle acting troupe, Dana writes and choreographs a highly controversial play. The sequel to “Hamlet,” “Hamlet 2” focuses on undoing the tragedies that led to the principle players’ deaths – with the help of a time machine, Jesus, and impulsive song and dance.
Biting sarcasm and comical coarseness hide the fact that few of the jokes are intelligent. Blatant racism and religious spoofs are easy methods of hilarity, ceaselessly consuming the audience with laughter – or unease. There are serious bits of drama occasionally mixed in, but the characters are so unordinary that normal reactions can’t possibly be anticipated. The power of booze, foul language, cliché media extravaganzas, bold offenses, and oodles of enthusiasm make up for any deficiencies in filmmaking skills or the questionable editing techniques. Praise must be given chiefly to Steve Coogan, who expertly supports the entire production, managing to maintain viewer interest almost single-handedly.
Narration and title cards are used to witty effect (Act 4: Hope is a Demon Bitch), Elisabeth Shue shows up to play herself, and Amy Poehler unleashes the most cynical lines in a role seemingly written with her in mind (“I’m married to a Jew – I’ve got nothing to lose”). Some of the most rewarding moments are the unbelievably well-lighted and choreographed song and dance sequences during the play itself, further stimulated by the many ramifications of skirting on the edge of decency (quite a change from director Andrew Fleming’s previous picture, “Nancy Drew”). Boosted by an extra special meaning to Arizona residents (Tucson is the butt of many a joke), “Hamlet 2” is highly entertaining nonsense – perhaps as amusing as it is repellent to the politically correct.
– Mike Massie