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'Hamlet 2' Movie Review

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating

By

'Hamlet 2' Movie Review

Steve Coogan and Elisabeth Shue (as Elisabeth Shue) in Hamlet 2.

© Focus Features
I have a love/hate relationship with Hamlet 2. I love the humor, the way it sends up inspirational teacher movies before becoming one itself, and I love Steve Coogan's engaging – and even mildly heartbreaking – performance. I hate the fact that out of the blue I'll break out singing, "Rock Me, Rock Me Sexy Jesus…" It's like one of those TV theme songs that's stuck recycling itself in your brain, emerging just when you least expect it to for the sole purpose of annoying you to the point you want to rip out your own tongue. That's why I hate Hamlet 2.

But as much as I dislike having the "Rock Me Sexy Jesus" song imprinted on my brain, my affection for the stereotype-busting, outrageously funny Hamlet 2 is much, much stronger. It's audacious and infectious, and one of the funniest films of 2008. And moviegoers who don't have a clue who Steve Coogan is are going to convert into fans after checking out his performance in Hamlet 2.

The Story

Those who can't do, teach. Those who can't get paid work as an actor outside of herpes commercials, teach drama. Failed actor Dana Marschz (he can't even pronounce his own last name so don't even bother trying to wrap your tongue around it) has the enthusiasm to succeed but not the talent, so he turns his attention to teaching drama at a high school in Tucson, Arizona. Yet even there critics can't leave him alone. Actually, it's just one critic who's the thorn in Marschz' side. The kid who writes reviews for the school paper has nothing but negative things to say about Marschz' obsession with putting on plays based on popular movies (Erin Brockovich brought to life by two over-acting high school kids is a sight to behold).

Melonie Diaz, Steve Coogan and Phoebe Strole in Hamlet 2.

© Focus Features
Marschz' class is one of the least popular on campus – he has two diehard students and that's it – until the principal closes down a section of the school. Forced into taking drama, the new students – predominantly Hispanic – don't know what to make of their incredibly bizarre dress-wearing teacher. But before they can really get to know Marschz, the principal announces they're shutting down the drama department. Marschz, passionate and more than a little pathetic, doesn't want to go quietly into the night. Instead of throwing in the towel, he comes up with the idea of staging an original production in order to earn enough money to keep the drama department open.

Marschz has a big heart but he's not the sharpest tool in the shed. After hours of frustration and arguments with a cat who won't fight back, Marschz comes up with an original musical that's sure to be a hit. Marschz goes where no man or woman should ever go - he writes Hamlet 2 – the sequel to Shakespeare's Hamlet. Hamlet's ending was such a bummer that Marschz believes it deserves to be reshaped. Marschz feels he can do Shakespeare one better by rewriting the ending to Hamlet, adding in a time-traveling Jesus with rockin' abs and a swimmer's bod, and a handful of catchy tunes.

Of course no one outside the kids in his class (who were all a hard sells other than his two dedicated students) wants Marschz to put on this play. It's controversial, profanity-laden, and offensive. But Marschz and his students won't be deterred and the show will go on – despite protests, death threats, and a lack of good taste.

The Cast

Steve Coogan is phenomenal as Marschz. No matter who outlandish the story gets, no matter how ridiculous the musical numbers or how pathetic his character becomes, Coogan remains so likeable you are all but forced to cheer on his efforts. Equally impressive are the young actors who make up his class of drama students, with newcomers Phoebe Strole (as an uptight, middle class A student who's scared to death of her 'ethnic' classmates) and Skylar Astin (as the sexually confused drama king), the real standouts of the bunch. Strole and Astin are no strangers to musicals having starred on Broadway in the Tony Award-winning Spring Awakening, but that experience could only go so far in preparing them for the songs they'd have to handle in Hamlet 2.

Lending support are Catherine Keener as David's wife who's unable to censor herself once she starts drinking and David Arquette as their free-loading boarder. Amy Poehler delivers another scene-stealing turn as a civil liberties lawyer whose rapid-fire manner of speaking and continuous threats of legal action help keep the protesters at bay. Elisabeth Shue also puts in an appearance, playing…Elisabeth Shue. The set-up finds her working as a nurse having given up the horrors of life in Hollywood for something more rewarding. Shue shows she's a good sport, both making fun of herself and having her career used as the butt of jokes.

Skylar Astin, Steve Coogan and Melonie Diaz in Hamlet 2.

© Focus Features
The Bottom Line

Co-writer/director Andrew Fleming and writer Pam Brady took the worst idea for a sequel ever and made its creation into the focus of an unforgettable movie. Hamlet 2 will offend some, but you know what? It's actually a very sweet, very uplifting film – albeit one with a sprinkling of vulgarity, some drinking and drug use, and a few totally outrageous exchanges of politically incorrect dialogue.

The fact the musical sequel to Hamlet is staged better than a typical high school production doesn't matter in the least. These are high school kids you can connect with led by a sort of passionate, oblivious-to-reality teacher you've either had or heard about. As things go from bad to worse, Fleming and Brady – and Steve Coogan – don't let you forget Dana Marschz is a decent human whose efforts, misguided as they are, all serve the greater good of keeping students interested in drama and involved in school.

There's more to this unique and enjoyable movie than is shown in the trailer. Actually, the trailer does the film a disservice as it sort of misleads viewers into thinking the film's a lot of slapstick comedy. It's not. This is smart and original and definitely worth the side effect of having "Rock Me Sexy Jesus" in your head for days - even weeks - after viewing.

Grade: A-

Hamlet 2 was directed by Andrew Fleming and is rated R for language including sexual references, brief nudity, and some drug content

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