, 92 min, 2008
Director: Andrew Fleming
Writers: Pam Brady & Andrew Fleming (written by)
Stars: Steve Coogan, Elisabeth Shue, Catherine Keener
Andrew Fleming’s Hamlet 2 is a wicked, absurd comedy that isn’t so much politically incorrect as just plain wrong – by which I mean perfectly right.
Steve Coogan (24 Hour Party People) stars as Dana Marschz, whose name causes much confusion about pronunciation, an aspiring actor who has appeared in many commercials and whose dream of being taken seriously has resulted in moving to his current residence in “the place where dreams go to die,” Tucson, Arizona. He is the drama teacher at the local high school, where his stage productions of popular Hollywood movies such as Erin Brockovichresult in vicious, mean-spirited critical drubbings from a freshman (Shea Pepe) who gives him some seemingly-sound advice: maybe try something unique and original, instead of constant retreads.
Dana and his wife Brie (Catherine Keener, right in her wheelhouse) live with roommate Gary (David Arquette), who may be (at least) mildly retarded, or certainly really frickin’ dim-witted. Dana’s drama class consists entirely of two actors: teacher’s pet and candidate for a gay teacher-student sex scandal Rand Posin (Skylar Astin), and stuck-up, rules-obsessed Epiphany Sellars (Phoebe Strole). That is, until the troubled students, who are (apparently) mostly Latinos and Latinas, are folded into the group. Leading the pack are sweet-natured, virginal Ivonne (Melonie Diaz from Be Kind Rewind) and rebellious Octavio (Joseph Julian Soria), who looks and acts like a “gangsta” but is, in fact, headed for Brown University and comes from well-spoken academic parents. Dana’s approach to teaching these ruffians is more or less to follow the scripts of Dead Poets Society, Mr. Holland’s Opus and other such “inspirational teacher” films and reach into the souls of his kids, hoping to turn their attitudes around to his favor.
One night, Dana gets a brainstorm and, in a whirlwind, cranks out his play Hamlet 2, a sequel to Shakespeare’s classic without a scintilla of real connection to the original material, in which Hamlet must return to earth in a time machine with Jesus to reverse the tragedy of the play so that they both may learn to forgive their fathers. This shocks the conscience, offends the sensibilities, and mocks the foundation of the community, and Dana is fired by Principal Rocker (TV character actor and perpetual guest star Marshall Bell), leading to an ACLU defense lawyer named Cricket (Amy Poehler of SNL) stepping up to put the play on, flying in the face of all good sense. Oh, and Elisabeth Shue shows up playing…Elisabeth Shue, the actress, who has apparently retired from Hollywood to be a nurse in Tucson (yes).
The film was directed by Andrew Fleming (The Craft, Dick), no stranger to tasteless parody, who co-wrote with Pam Brady. The film is silly, sick, twisted, would be offensive to anyone who still has a semblence of “morality” and “values” – and is very, very funny. That the film climaxes with the show and such tasteless musical numbers as “Raped in the Face” and the penultimate “Rock Me, Sexy Jesus” is, perhaps, inevitable, but it is also hilarious and infectious the spirit in which Dana and his crew put on their show.
What is this film about? Well, it’s the old “free speech despite content” argument, and you know what? It works. Dana Marschz may be a tasteless hack who wants so desperately to be famous and successful as a show business “artist,” but his right to be so must be defended at all costs.