Monday, September 1, 2008

From the Archive: "Hamlet 2" Film Review

Film Rating: B

Welcome to The Archive, a comprehensive collection of reviews dating back to 2007, originally written for The Denver Post’s YourHub.Com website and print edition!  In the archive, you’ll find hundreds of movie, DVD, Blu-Ray, and TV reviews, along with other special features.  You can access the complete Archive Collection by clicking here, and read about the archive project by clicking here. 

Continue reading after the jump to access my original review of “Hamlet 2.”

From the Jonathan R. Lack Review Archives:
“Hamlet 2”
Originally published September 1st, 2008

The Rock Me Sexy Jesus song number near the end of Hamlet 2 is possibly the most maniacally hilarious scene in any film all year.  The lyrics, which include lines like “Immaculate conception really makes my day,” are creative, twisted, and fearless; the tune is catchy as hell.  It strikes a perfect balance between awkwardness and humor; sadly, the rest of the film wades too far into ‘awkward’ territory, stopping it from being consistently funny. 

In fact, this film would be painful to sit through if it weren’t for the grade-A efforts of actor Steve Coogan.  Coogan has a distinct style of humor, and his small part in Tropic Thunder left me wanting to see him in a starring role (a starring role in something good, as opposed to that awful Around the World in 80 Days remake).  As it happens, Hamlet 2 is tailor made for his talents.  This is his movie, and he knows it. 

He plays Dana Marschz (not even Dana knows how to pronounce his last name), a man who turns to teaching theater after failing as an actor.  He continually puts on shows based on popular Hollywood movies, all of which are terrible; his class is down to 2 students.  One year, he comes back to school to find the class “14 times bigger,” because drama is the last artistic elective left.  A few weeks later, the principal decides to shut down Drama at the end of the semester, leaving Dana traumatized.  In a last ditch effort to save the class, he writes an original play, entitled Hamlet 2, which involves a time machine, Jesus, and thinly-veiled metaphors for Dana’s struggle with his father.  The play is so offensive that the school threatens to have Dana arrested, until a lawsuit-loving lawyer (Amy Poehler, receiving third billing a role amounting to a cameo) comes to save the day and preach first amendment rights.

Coogan’s Dana is a loser of monumental proportions.  He lives in a fantasy world based on all the movies he’s seen, using the principals of movies like Mr. Holland’s Opus as a guide to every day life.  He goes everywhere on roller skates, wears strange clothing, and has a wife who hates him with a passion, though he never realizes it.  Had anyone else played Dana, the film might have turned out awful; Coogan makes this loser instantly loveable, even during his often insane antics.  He commands the film with force, while his character is a sissy. 

The humor in Hamlet 2 is hit and miss stuff, but this is one of the most admirable efforts of the year.  The film pokes fun at just about everything; arts in schools, teachers, students, activists, lawyers, actors, theater, musicals, fundamentalist Christians, etc.  There’s an insanely broad scope of humor in the movie, all centered around a teacher who thinks he’s an inspiration to his students, but is far from it.  The fact that all these jokes are successfully contained in one film is an achievement, to be sure, but awkwardness often pervades when humor is the goal. 

Still, the film moves along at a solid pace, and the film is worth seeing for moments of inspiration.  A running gag involves Dana meeting his favorite actress Elizabeth Shue, now working as a nurse to get away from Hollywood; Dana goes wild for her, but no one else has a clue who she is.  The banter between Dana and his hateful wife, played by Catherine Keener, is always hilarious.  The scenes with David Arquette as an awkward roommate always made me chuckle; the character has very little dialogue, content with just sitting around.  It’s random, and funny because of it.  I’ve already mentioned Rock Me Sexy Jesus, the hilarious crescendo of the film’s humor.

To enjoy Hamlet 2, you’ll need to have a certain sense of humor, one that involves laughing at subtle gags.  None of the content is played out in a very over-the-top manner (until the musical, of course), but instead in a real-life sort of way.  No one is mugging for the camera.  I suppose this leads to some extra awkwardness (if these characters existed in real life, they’d be committed to an asylum), but also makes the humorous characteristics stand out.  You’ll also have to possess the ability to laugh at silly people getting involved in ridiculous situations.  You know; Indie humor.

If this sounds like your sense of humor, then I can guarantee you’ll have an enjoyable time watching Hamlet 2.  Don’t be prepared for anything groundbreaking though.  The biggest revelation here is Coogan, who simply demands some more starring roles in the near future.           

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