- Rated R
- Buy the DVD
All photos © Focus Features
Reviewed by David Medsker
hen “Hamlet 2” is on, it’s as funny and outrageous as any movie you’ll see this year. The problem is that the movie loses its rhythm almost as soon as it finds one, and just when you’re expecting one more joke that will induce gut-busting fits of laughter, the movie gives the equivalent of a glass of water to the face. At which point, you wait quietly for the next great laugh. The laughs are there; they’re just more intermittent than they should be.
Steve Coogan is Dana Marschz, a failed actor and even worse drama instructor. Only two students even bother to appear in his plays (which are bad adaptations of Hollywood blockbusters), until budget cuts force a group of disinterested tough kids to sign up for lack of better options. Soon after, the drama class is on the chopping block, so Dana seizes the opportunity to perform the play he’s been working on for years: a sequel to Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” A musical sequel to Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” at that. If teaching his new charges wasn’t difficult enough, he and his wife Brie (Catherine Keener) are forced to take in a roommate (David Arquette) to pay the bills, and the two are having fertility issues. Dana’s pretty much getting it from every direction. But the show must go on, a task that is made even more difficult when word gets out that his play involves hand jobs, foul language and a time-traveling “Sexy Jesus.”
How on earth did Andrew Fleming direct this movie? This does not resemble anything in his filmography, good (“Threesome,” “The Craft”) or bad (“The In-Laws,” “Nancy Drew”). He’s certainly never directed anything this funny, not of the feature-length variety. (He does have one episode of “Arrested Development” to his credit, otherwise this would easily be the funniest thing he’s ever done.) One wonders how this would have turned out if someone with a stronger voice had been at the helm. Alexander Payne, for example. Payne would have made an instant classic with this material.
Still, Fleming does pretty well with Pam Brady’s script, and coaxes a delightfully odd performance out of Coogan in the process. It’s never easy watching a good actor deliberately act poorly, but Coogan makes Laura Linney’s work in “The Truman Show” look like child’s play, he’s so bad/good. Kenner’s role is small but entertaining, and Amy Poehler’s late appearance as an ACLU lawyer nearly steals the show. And God love Elisabeth Shue for playing herself as a retired actress-turned-nurse, wearing her nurse outfit in every scene. It’s a small, weird touch, but a funny one.
“Hamlet 2” is good, and occasionally really good, but it still should have been much, much better. No one who’s interested in seeing it is likely to be disappointed, but odds are they will play the same “What if…” games that I played upon its conclusion. Sexy Jesus deserved better.
Single-Disc DVD Review:
There are not a ton of extras for this one-disc DVD release of "Hamlet 2" – which makes us wonder why Amazon is showing a list price of $29.98 – but one of those extras is one of the few deleted scenes released on DVD this year that is actually worth watching. Director Andrew Fleming and co-writer Pam Brady provide an amusing (if awkward) audio commentary, and there are two amusing featurettes that cover the subject matter, the music and the cast. There are sing-along bits of "Raped in the Face" and "Rock Me Sexy Jesus," (with a bouncing Einstein head and Jesus head, respectively, following the lyrics), but our personal favorite is the side-by-side comparison of the movie's high-school production of "Erin Brockovich" with the real "Erin Brockovich." Short, but sweet.