Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 32 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Language including Sexual References, brief Nudity and some Drug Content
Directed by: Andrew Fleming
Written by: Andrew Fleming & Pam Brady
Starring: Steve Coogan, Catherine Keener, David Arquette, Elisabeth Shue, Amy Poehler, Marshall Bell, Skylar Astin, Phoebe Strole, Melonie Diaz, Joseph Julian Soria & Arnie Pantoja
By virtue of the title HAMLET 2, you should know exactly what kind of comedy this is from the get-go. This is crude, childish and never even tries to takes itself seriously. It’s a ludicrous flick that makes sure to take shots at everyone it can, but there are a couple of flaws that are too big to ignore. HAMLET 2 is just a dumb comedy that was never meant to be high-art, so there’s nothing too critical in my noting of these problems. This movie is a good time for those who aren’t easily offended and want something a bit outlandish.
Dana Marschz is a failed actor turned even worse high school drama teacher. Though there aren’t as many enthusiastic students as he would hope, Dana seems to be casually floating through his existence at the high school until new complications arise. Due to the school cancelling many art programs, a bunch of inner-city stereotypes have landed themselves in Dana’s class (as it was the only available elective). To make matters even worse, Dana’s Drama class is next on the school’s chopping block. In order to save his class and a small amount of his dignity, this struggling teacher/would-be actor dives deep into his inner genius and writes a politically incorrect sequel to Shakespeare’s HAMLET. His forthcoming production of HAMLET 2 becomes a source for controversy and Dana’s class must band together to make it happen!
Without a doubt, the main attraction of HAMLET 2 is Steve Coogan playing Dana. He’s given free rein to be as quirky and crazy as he wants. Not much is given in the way of Dana’s character development (other than a few passing comments that turn into running jokes), but Coogan does get belly laughs as the ridiculously inept Drama teacher. The other characters are a blend of various high school students and roles that seem like excuses for other recognizable faces to show up. These include Catherine Keener as Dana’s wife, David Arquette as the couple’s boarder, Elisabeth Shue as an exaggerated version of herself and an underused Amy Poehler as a lawyer who sees HAMLET 2 as the ultimate “freedom of speech” case. Speaking of which, the film only shows glimpses of the actual play that the kids and Dana are performing. All we really see are snippets and two big musical numbers (“Raped in the Face” and “Rock Me, Sexy Jesus!”). I understand the reasoning behind this is that our imagination might make throw in images that are even funnier than anything shown on the screen, but it feels like heavily hyped center-stage joke that isn’t fully followed up on.
Though remaining funny, the actual performance of HAMLET 2 is among a handful of half-finished jokes that leave the script feeling a tad incomplete. The film begins with Act cards as if the viewer is watching a play unfold before their eyes. This stylistic joke continues until about halfway into the movie and then pretty much disappears. The same situation occurs with an omnipresent narrator who has a place in the film until about halfway through and abandons ship. It’s not as if these half-assed style choices wreck the film or soil the fun, but they do echo of how much funnier this entire movie might have been had they been followed through on until the end. The story is also fairly by-the-numbers and predictable, but remains entertaining with that taken into consideration.
HAMLET 2 is definitely not for everyone, but it’s also not nearly as offensive and over-the-top as it could have been. Jokes are set up and not fully followed through on (the actual performance of HAMLET 2 being the key one) comprise the biggest problems in the film. Steve Coogan definitely receives the most laughs as the eccentric and idiotic Dana. The other cast members are solid in their scenes as well, though Amy Poehler could have used a little more screen time. In spite of covering some pretty taboo subject matter (upbeat musical numbers about feeling face raped and a dancing Jesus in a tank top), HAMLET 2 manages to maintain a cheery tone and never aims for pure shock value. In the end, you should know from the general outline whether HAMLET 2 is for you or not. If you don’t expect more than a simple and silly comedy, you should walk away happy.