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Review of Hamlet 2
A Satire of Sorts with Steve Coogan
While there are several funny moments there are not enough of them to sustain the comedy of Hamlet 2.
The film is difficult to classify. It is a send-up of the “great white hope inspirational teacher” movie genre, yet it parodies movies like Dangerous Minds and Dead Poets’ Society so closely that the movie falls into the same tropes without much satirical bite.
“Rock Me Sexy Jesus”
As a failure of an actor and high school drama teacher, Dana Marschz, played by Steve Coogan has turned into a naïve optimist. He doesn’t have the talent to act, cannot write a decent play even when copying successful films, is under increasing pressure from his wife, and is facing the elimination of his job because of school budget cuts.
Faced with these obstacles, as well as a class of students who do not respect him, Dana decides to write his own play, a sequel to William Shakespeare’s Hamlet complete with time travel, musical numbers, lightsaber fights, and Jesus as Hamlet’s sidekick. The school and outraged community members threaten the play’s production along with Dana’s devolving personal life such as his inability to impregnate his wife and his falling off the wagon.
The show, however, must go on, and Dana is yanked out of his self-pity by the same students who previously insulted him. It seems he reached them after all. Despite various protests and a cease and desist order, the play proceeds, and simultaneously offends and inspires the community as art often does. Dana succeeds in producing his work and manages to get the play out of Tucson and onto Broadway.
The Great White Hype
Much of the movie lampoons other films where a teacher reaches out to trouble children and saves them by getting them interested in art, literature, sports, dance, or whatnot. The funniest moments come from the inversion or deconstruction of those tropes such as when Dana finds out some of his students are not the downtrodden street kids he imagines them to be. His own importance int their lives, by extension, is deflated. Other humorous moments arise from Dana’s real conflict with school administrators who do not care about art funding, or his relegation to sharing class space with lunchroom employees or the volleyball team. In most instances, Dana's personal pain becomes the springboard to comedy. Coogan does his strongest work with both the comedy and pathos in these scenes.
Where the Film Falls Flat
Unfortunately the film too often tries to play these stereotypes straight as though it is also trying to be the same genre of film it mocks. Dana’s trouble with alcohol, the relationship between the uptight white girl and irreverent Latino boy, the sexually confused drama student, and the shy girl giving the motivational speech to Dana at just the right moment are all scenes telegraphed in advance and expected, but the movie makes few attempts to satirize them or even play them for laughs.
While Steve Coogan performs well—he is convincing as a man hoping against all evidence—minor roles played by Elizabeth Shue, Amy Poehler, and David Arquette amount to little, which is a shame given the level of comedic talent they should have brought to the table. Similarly, some of the relationships, such as the one between Dana and his wife, do not pan out and seem more like a distractions than a driving element to the movie.
To Watch or Not To Watch
Hamlet 2 makes is worth viewing once to see Steve Coogan’s performance, and the play’s musical number “Rock Me Sexy Jesus” is catchy and comical, fitting with the tone of the movie. However, the viewer will likely be puzzled as to why more of the movie did not reach that level of impertinent fun. There's a fun and dark comedy in this movie, but it doesn't reach that level as often as it should.
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© 2010 Seth Tomko