Click here 3 and a half stars

Hamlet 2
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Steve Coogan dances in "Hamlet 2."

Hilarity ensues:
"Hamlet 2"
is a delightful,
offbeat comedy

Reviewed by John Orr

I recently rented the DVD of "Hamlet 2" and have to mention it here because so many of us love theater, as does the hero of this very funny comedy, which is from the same production company, Bona Fide Productions, that brought us "Little Miss Sunshine."

"Hamlet 2" stars Steve Coogan, who is known in the United Kingdom for comedy, especially on the telly, and known in the United States more for movies - he played Octavius in both the "Night at the Museum" movies, for instance.

In "Hamlet 2," Coogan plays Dana Marschz, a failed commercials actor now teaching drama at a high school in Tucson. Marschz loves acting, loves actors, loves the entire creative process of staging plays and making movies.

He has two students, who act in the plays Marschz writes based on famous movies. "Erin Brockovich," for instance.



Steve Coogan, Elisabeth Shue in "Hamlet 2."

Hamlet 2
Catherine Keener, David Arquette in "Hamlet 2."

The productions are roundly trashed in a newspaper (very good laughs waiting for you here; I won't reveal them here), and Marschz has been warned the entire drama class (all two students) might be cancelled anyway.

Then one day Marschz roller-skates into class to find it packed with new students. All the other electives have been cancelled because of remodeling to remove asbestos, so the kids have no choice. Or interest.

And yet Marschz tries to rise to the challenge, but in rather more profane ways than, say, did the teachers in "Dead Poets Society," "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie," "Mr. Holland's Opus" or any of the other earnest-teacher-as-a-hero movies. Marschz seems to be a complete loser, and yet he does have something special, which comes out as he tries to reach his hostile new students.

In the meantime, things are not entirely happy at home. Marschz is married to Brie, played brilliantly by Catherine Keener, who pretty much corners the market on acerbic comments. "What the — was she thinking" she asks publically, while holding a giant margarita glass that is now only half full, when she married Marschz? The couple has been trying to have a baby, but it seems Marschz may be "shooting blanks."

"Maybe it's better that we just can't get pregnant," says Brie. "I feel like we shouldn't pass on this gene pool."

Because Marschz and Brie are very poor, they have a roommate, played by David Arquette, who has fewer lines in this movie than probably ever before in his career. And yet he's still funny.

As things get progressively worse in Marschz's life, he decides to write one last play for his newly expanded drama class, one not based on a movie: "Hamlet 2."

Brie: "Hamlet 2"?

Dana: The deuce, correct.

Brie: Doesn't everybody die at the end of the first one?

Dana: I have a device.

Brie: "The time machine door opened —

Dana: That, that's the device

Brie: "— revealing Hamlet, Gertrude, Polonius, and Hillary Clinton having what appears to be group sex."

Dana: It's about my troubled relationship with my father.

Yes, "Hamlet 2" is not going to appeal to a wide audience. It has elements of black comedy, actor in-jokes and what a lot of people would see as profanity.

When "Hamlet 2" is finally staged, for instance, the song that has the best hook, the most memorable melody line, the song people will hum after the movie, is "Rock Me, Sexy Jesus."

But maybe God has a sense of humor, too, and will be amused as not only Marschz finds a way to forgive his father, but Hamlet forgives his father, and Jesus forgives His Father.

Elisabeth Shue is in this film, playing herself as a nurse. She's gotten tired of Hollywood and wants to do some good in the world. She is among the first people in the shocked audience for "Hamlet 2" to laugh.

Some of the DVD features are a blast, including one that intercuts scenes of Julia Roberts and Aaron Eckhart in "Erin Brockovich" with Marschz's student production of the movie. Phoebe Strole as Epiphany Sellars and Skylar Astin as Rand Posin acquit themselves quite well.

In the making-of short, director Andrew Fleming says he believes the film "will appeal to my friends, mentally unstable people, people out for some cheap laughs, and drunkards."

If you classify yourself in one or more of those groups, as I do, you may like this film.

Buy the DVD at Amazon.com.

See cast, credit and other details about "Hamlet 2" at Internet Movie Data Base.


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