Hamlet 2 (2008)

DVD Cover (Focus Features)
Movie Connections:
> Hamlet 2 (2008)
> Ophelia (2018)
Absurd Comedy, Comedy, Musical Comedy
Andrew Fleming Andrew Fleming
Steve Coogan Steve Coogan
Catherine Keener Catherine Keener
Joseph Julian Soria Joseph Julian Soria
Skylar Astin Skylar Astin
Phoebe Strole Phoebe Strole

6.4 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by bluemeanie
Added: August 25, 2008
Whereas 2007 was the year of the drama, 2008 has been shaping up as the year of the comedy. There have already been several critically acclaimed, high-grossing comedies released in theatres this year, most of them coming during the Summer months. Most recently, both "Tropic Thunder" and "Pineapple Express" made huge impressions with this critic, and both will likely find their ways on my end of the year list. "Hamlet 2" is the latest lauded comedy to find its way to multiplexes, and I have been anticipating this one for quite some time, ever since the first moment I caught a glimpse of that ridiculous trailer and then signature song, "Rock Me, Sexy Jesus". This was a film that was quite popular at 2008's Sundance Film Festival; it was immediately purchased by Focus Features and churned out sooner than most independent scoops. It definitely has the "Little Miss Sunshine" factor going for it, and it all depends on whether or not audiences are in the mood for another quirky "Juno"-esque comedy this year. I didn't know what to expect when I walked into the theatre, and the film delivered just that - the unexpected. The film is somewhat deceptive from the trailers and is actually less about the production of "Hamlet 2" and more about the life of one man. "Hamlet 2" was a very good film, but it left me feeling a little confused, at times.

The film centers around the character of Dana Marschz (Steve Coogan), a former professional actor and writer who now teaches drama at a high school in Tucson, Arizona. His knack is for taking popular films and turning them into plays, the picture opening with his prize students (Skylar Astin & Phoebe Strole) tackling that epic drama, "Erin Brockovich". At home, Dana is married to the very bitter and somewhat resentful Brie (Catherine Keener), who is getting a little too close to their new border, Gary (David Arquette). One day, Dana discovers that his class size has more than doubled, and he is now plagued with several ethnic students. Dana's turns on the "Dangerous Minds" charm and decided he wants to enlighten and inspire them. When the school board makes the decision to cut out the drama program altogether, Dana & Co. must come up with an idea that will save the program from eradication. This idea turns out to be "Hamlet 2", a sequel to the Bard's most famous work, finding Hamlet traveling back in time to prevent everyone from dying. His friends along for the ride include Albert Einstein, Snoopy and even Jesus. Much of the last part of the film deals with everyone in Tucson trying to shut the production down, as Dana tries both to keep his show on the road and his home life from falling apart. There is even a side plot involving Dana's relationship with Elisabeth Shue, the former actress, who has now become a full-time nurse because she didn't like the Hollywood machine. "Hamlet 2" is, essentially, The Steve Coogan Show. The entire film relies on his comedic timing and presence. Thank the Lord.

What makes "Hamlet 2" so unusual is Coogan's bizarre brand of comedy. He can make something funny by cocking an eye or tilting a cheek - very simple facial gestures. He is a great physical comedian, like Jerry Lewis, and owns the film with those sensibilities. Most of the comedy in the film is actually more adult in nature than the trailer would have you believe. A lot of the plot revolves around Dana's hatred of his father, who either abused or molested him as a boy. There is an undercurrent regarding abusive parents that carries through the end of the film. But, the picture is carried by Coogan's quirky performance and his ability to make the simplest line hysterical. He makes some of the most bizarre, random comments, you're shaking your head in curiosity as you are laughing riotously. The last part of the film, dealing with the actual performance of the piece, is absolute gold, featuring everything from the much touted "Rock Me, Sexy Jesus" to a gay men's choir singing "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" by Elton John as Hamlet runs in slow motion to save Gertrude & Ophelia from drinking the poisoned wine. The film rushes into a nice and happy ending that really doesn't do justice to the rest of the film, but it doesn't really disappoint us either, as Coogan gives one final kick to the people of Tucson, who really get the shaft here.

As mentioned a couple of times, Steve Coogan steals the show here. He has just started really embracing American films, and he is starting to become known amongst comedy fans here in the states. His timing is impeccable and he really just knows how to play physical comedy, and he is one of the best out there at it. Without Coogan in this role, the film would have failed. I cannot imagine another comedian taking this role and running with it the way Coogan did and it almost seemed as if the role were written expressly for him. Also strong in the picture is Catherine Keener, who does a fantastic job as Dana's bizarrely unstable wife. Her few scenes in the film are just plain fantastic. Skylar Astin is quite enjoyable as the teacher's pet, Rand; and Elisabeth Shue does a nice job at playing...well...Elisabeth Shue, and poking fun at herself more than once. Amy Poehler has a couple of nice moments, but it benefits more from the strong writing than the acting. And just a note - the opening sequences of the film, including previous acting moments involving Coogan's character and voice over narration from Jeremy Irons - is just priceless. It's the equivalent of the lumberjack sequence in "Step Brothers" and "Simple Back" from "Tropic Thunder".

Though the film wasn't quite what I expected on the whole, I highly recommend "Hamlet 2" for going for a 'different' comedic approach. I give much applause to Steve Coogan for really proving that he has what it takes to make it as a star in American cinema. "Hamlet 2" will appeal to those of us with theatre backgrounds a little more because it tackles both mediums, but it will also appeal to those of you who just want to laugh at ridiculous physical comedy and raunchy humor. It does not have a lot of the latter, but it does have some. The film also plays fast and loose with ethnic jokes and racism, but it does so in a very light-hearted manner. "Hamlet 2" opens in wide release next weekend and will be at a theatre near you, so I encourage you to seek it out. I am hoping it does as well as Focus Features probably wants it to do, and although it might not be the next "Little Miss Sunshine" or "Juno", it definitely has spunk and wit and a whole lot of laughs.

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