Movie Review: Hamlet 2

By Sean Collier

September 18, 2008

Steve Coogan knows how to boogie.

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About midway through, Hamlet 2 lifts a line from This is Spinal Tap. A pubescent drama critic, of the titular sequel, remarks, "Sometimes an idea can be so bad, it turns good again." (The original, of course: "It's such a fine line between stupid and clever.") That line doubles as a description of the overall film, but it may be more than that – I think it was actually the whole point. Hamlet 2 isn't just a slapstick comedy, it's a comedy that, at times, revels in its own preposterousness – and, oddly, confusingly, even frustratingly, succeeds in coming off as charming and occasionally hilarious.

Steve Coogan's failed thespian Dana Marschz has been toiling at a Tucson public high school, putting on awkward adaptations of Hollywood films starring his two-person drama class. When a dearth of class choices sends an influx of students Dana perceives as Dangerous Minds types, he starts working on his opus – a time-traveling, West Side Story looking sequel to Hamlet, with the young Dane and none other than Jesus H. Christ himself getting together to set things right and forgive their fathers. Of course, the school is none too crazy about the sex-soaked masterwork, and tries to shut down the department.

The conflict and story play second fiddle to the play itself (as the title would indicate,) and the concluding performance is much stronger than the rest of the film. Aside from the heavily advertised "Rock Me Sexy Jesus," which is just as perfect as it sounds, I was particularly fond of the confessional, Rent-style number "Raped in the Face."


Other than that, the movie has its good moments and its bad moments, but – and this is the key – the bad moments are uniformly over-the-top and ridiculous. That's what Hamlet 2 is shooting for, I think – when it's good, it wants to be funny, and when it's bad, it wants to be outrageous. If I'm wrong, and they thought everything they were doing was genius, then that's a different take on the film; but if I'm right, then there's a sort of bizarre method to this madness. I'd liken it, for better or worse, to Snakes on a Plane, which had a similar motive – not to be a true comedy, just a ridiculous action movie. We may have a new subgenre on our hands, people – handle with care.

Coogan, of course, carries the film through the rough patches with ease. He has the tortured failed actor down perfectly, from the bizarre facial manipulations to the pains of the melodramatic artistic process. Hamlet 2 is worth it just for him. Catherine Keener, as Coogan's belligerent wife, can't capture the appeal she had in The 40 Year-Old Virgin; a surprisingly adept turn by David Arquette (to be fair, he's playing a nearly speechless moron) lightens the load on Keener, though. The high school kids are capable enough, and a late-in-the-game entry from Amy Poehler as a feisty ACLU lawyer is hilarious.

Hamlet 2 is one of those films that you'll like if you want to like, and you'll hate if you want to hate. Plenty of it is bizarre, but it begs you to give yourself over to the madness; if you can manage that, there's a genuinely funny, sweet film here. With the tepid reaction, it should flee theaters awfully quickly, so get there now.



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