||[Aug. 31st, 2008|02:12 am]
International Bon Vivant and Raconteur
Andrew Fleming's Hamlet 2 is a cute movie with several laugh out loud funny scenes, but it's also a mess. A big mess. It could have used another pass-through on the script, because most everything in the film is only half developed.
The often funny Steve Coogan plays Dana Marschz, a failed actor who becomes the drama teacher at a high school in Tucson, Arizona. Upon learning the funding for the drama department is about to be cut, he decides to put on one last big show to rally people to the cause of keeping arts education alive. Along the way, he inspires the jaded streetwise kids, learns to believe in himself again, forgives his father -- blah, blah, blah, you've seen this movie before. The problem with Hamlet 2 is that it doesn't know whether it's spoofing those movies or simply being its own addition to the Dangerous Minds ouevre.
Catherine Keener rocks the house as Marschz's fed up wife Brie, but her plotline takes a ridiculous turn that is neither fully set up nor properly realized. Frankly, I didn't know what the hell was going on with her, and ultimately her character brings nothing to the movie. The drama class kids are barely more than cardboard cutouts -- the tough kid who turns out to be a really good actor, the racist white girl who finds love with a Hispanic boy, the closeted gay boy -- so when the production hits some major roadblocks and they insist to Marschz that they refuse to give up, the scene is meaningless because we never know why they care to begin with.
However, the movie springs to life every time Marschz confronts the pipsqueak drama critic for the school newspaper, Noah Sapperstein (Shea Pepe), a thirteen-year-old boy who is at once the teacher's arch nemesis and greatest mentor. Those scenes are hilarious mini-movies in and of themselves. There's also some good work from Elisabeth Shue, playing herself, but the joke gets stretched to the breaking point by the final scene. Amy Poehler shows up in the last twenty minutes as an ACLU lawyer, and is in fact the final straw that turns the movie too high concept for its own good.
But the real meat in this meal is Marschz's production of the play he thinks will save the drama department, his own original musical "Hamlet 2". And I have to admit it's awesome. The much mentioned musical number "Rock Me, Sexy Jesus" is as brilliant as you might imagine, as is Hamlet's lightsaber fight with Polonius, CPR rescue of Ophelia, and confrontation with the giant robot head of his dead father. Too bad there wasn't more of that in the final act of the movie. Instead, they keep cutting away to the lesser enjoyment of the movie's plot. Had the last half hour been the play "Hamlet 2" in its entirety, the movie would have shined. Instead, as it stands, it's a tarnished, half-cut gem that may be worth renting, but not the cost of a movie theater ticket.