B+

Hamlet 2

Andrew Fleming's Hamlet 2 takes aim at any number of barn-door-sized satirical targets, including deluded actors, closeted teen homosexuals, Grease, Jesus, high-school theater, unnecessary sequels, alcoholics, hallucinogens, and musicals, but what it lacks in originality, it makes up for in laughs. Funny excuses an awful lot, and at its best, Hamlet 2 is nothing short of hilarious. Much of the credit belongs to star Steve Coogan, who breathes new life into a sturdy comic archetype, the hapless boob too myopic to realize what a joke he is to everyone around him.

In a brilliant star turn, Coogan plays a failed actor whose career peaked with ads for herpes medication and a bit part on Xena: Warrior Princess. After bottoming out personally and professionally, he gets a thankless gig teaching theater at an Arizona high school where his students are indifferent or outright hostile to his moony show-biz dreams. When the school threatens to shut down the drama program, Coogan tries to save it by mounting a proudly heretical, crazily offensive musical sequel to Hamlet that's more a trippy, free-associative freak-out than a conventional play.

It would have been easy for Coogan to play the lead with an air of condescension or ironic distance, but he imbues his cartoonish fop with daft innocence and strangely winning naïveté. His heart is in the right place, even if logic, decency, and common sense are utterly foreign concepts to him. Catherine Keener is largely wasted as Coogan's sour scold of a wife, as is Elisabeth Shue (as herself), though the latter's the subject of one of the film's sharpest gags, which finds an apoplectic Coogan trying to drum up interest in Shue among his bored students by rattling off her credits, including, "Dreamer—with the fucking horse!" Coogan's muu-muu-wearing dunce is an inspired comic creation, on par with Steve Carell in The Office. He's a goofy man-child so boyish that, in the film's funniest subplot, he looks up to his school's pimply, dour, 14-year-old drama critic as a disapproving father figure. It's easy to laugh at his self-delusion, yet still get sucked into his gloriously tacky theatrical dreams.

Filed Under: Film

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