August 28, 2008

Bad Shakespeare is Good for Laughs

By Stephanie Schomer

Sometimes, a little nonsense goes a long way. And in the case of "Hamlet 2," a lot of nonsense goes a really long way. The result is a hysterical (and, for some, offensive) look at middle-class America.

Dana Marschz (Steve Coogan) loves acting. He loves acting so much that even after his own career fails miserably (a commercial for herpes medication is on his resume), he dedicates his life to the arts as the drama teacher at West Mesa High School in Tucson, Ariz.

Dana's only two students are Rand and Epiphany (Skylar Astin and Phoebe Strole), two stereotypically overenthusiastic drama nerds. But when the class is unexpectedly infiltrated with students whose other classes, due to budget problems, were eliminated, Dana has a rowdy and indifferent group of kids to tame. But it gets worse: Dana learns that, after this semester, drama will get the ax, too.

Coogan's portrayal of Dana, as he roller-skates around Tucson, is hilarious and likable. Unlike so many movies' failed-actor characters who think they are truly talented and just never caught a break, Dana is fully aware of his lack of talent, and it's hard not to sympathize. He is passionate about theater, and though his staged re-creations of popular films such as "Erin Brockovich" are ridiculed by the high school's film critic (a pint-sized teenager with a lisp), he is determined to prove the value of drama to the financially burdened school district.

And so, after many sleepless nights (during which he exclaims: "Oh my god. Writing is so hard."), Dana pens the irreverent musical "Hamlet 2." As we all know, this seems improbable, as the original "Hamlet" ended in a lot of death -- but throw in a time machine, Jesus, a whole lot of offensive dialogue and some snappy dance numbers, and it all works out.

"Hamlet 2" is met by heavy community opposition and makes national headlines, but Dana and his unlikely cast push forward with their "masterpiece." As Dana's personal life disintegrates around him (his wife, played by Catherine Keener, is bored and dissatisfied with her goofy husband), the dedication he pours into the musical just might, for the first time, get him some success.

Just like the play portrayed in the film, "Hamlet 2" is so bizarre and silly that it becomes incredibly interesting to watch and just funny, funny, funny. In addition, the film's cast is brilliant and is brightened by a wonderfully self-deprecating Elisabeth Shue, who plays herself and has abandoned the cold world of acting for a more stable career in nursing. Amy Poehler, as usual, lights up the screen as a feisty ACLU lawyer who is determined to save the production of "Hamlet 2." Though her on- screen time is small, her performance and wit are spot-on.

"Hamlet 2" is politically incorrect, campy and absurd, but it's full of laughs and, surprisingly enough, full of characters worth caring about. And if that's not enough to get you to the theater, the promise of seeing a musical number titled "Rock Me Sexy Jesus" should be -- it's not only the highlight of the movie, but also a hilarious song that will stay with you for days.


>Movie Review

"Hamlet 2"

Review: Three stars (out of four)

Steve Coogan, Catherine Keener and Amy Poehler star in director Andrew Fleming's tale of a failed actor-turned-high school drama teacher who writes and stages a controversial and outlandish sequel to Shakespeare's "Hamlet." 92 minutes. Rated R for language, including sexual references, brief nudity and some drug content. Opens today in area theaters.

Originally published by NEWS CONTRIBUTING REVIEWER.

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