As bizarre as this may sound, Hamlet 2 has a charm about it. A likability, akin to that of the underdog, that helps keeps the movie engaging throughout. Even when it gets incredibly dark, or slows down a shade, or when things get unbelievably bad for our lead character, there’s something that still propels the viewer to watch until the final reel. Sure, this film may not do it for everybody, but if you can make it to the end, then I believe you’ll be in for a great overall viewing experience. Hamlet 2 is one of the funniest, most demented movies of the year. Very under-appreciated, it died a quick death in theatres, but now has a chance to live again in the home video format.
One high school drama teacher is about to make a huge number 2 in this wildly irreverent and completely outrageous movie from the producers of Little Miss Sunshine. When his school’s theater department is threatened to be cut, failed actor-turned-high-school-drama-teacher Dana Marschz writes a play he hopes will solve everything: a sequel to Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Now, staging one of the most politically incorrect musical-theater extravaganzas ever seen, Dana and his class will put it all on the line for one controversial, conflicted night of hilarity. Objections from school officials and the community are soon raised, but Dana will not be denied his freedom of artistic expression, getting unexpected support from ACLU attorney Cricket Feldstein and his favorite actress, Elisabeth Shue. He fervently believes that his opus must be staged, and nothing can break his optimistic spirit.
I can’t stress enough that this movie likely won’t work well with a lot of people. For those expecting over-the-top antics and zany buffoonery, look elsewhere. What we get here in comedy grounded in absurd reality. And all of this is led by a man who is, essentially, a failure. Steve Coogan plays Dana Marschz, a man who’s had a rough ride in life. His acting career didn’t take off (which we actually get to see in some hilarious clips that kick off the movie), he’s failing as a teacher, and his marriage is falling apart. All of this is happening right before him and, well, we’re supposed to laugh at it. And we do. And, maybe for a few parts, we feel bad about it, but, overall, the humor here is so dark at times that is perfectly balances some of the more outrageous aspects of the movie. But what holds this movie all together is Marschz himself. You can’t help but become so invested in what he’s doing.
There’s just so many great gags to be found her, specifically the work of Mr. Marschz himself. Whether it’s putting on theatrical renditions of Erin Brokovich or Dead Poets Society, it’s pure garbage, but he never sees it that way. But when he decided to put on an original musical, his creativity, so to speak, comes alive once again. The original musical is, as you can guess, a sequel to Hamlet. And it’s Marschz’s zealous enthusiasm that convinces us of the plausibility to this entire endeavor. This is a guy who can’t do anything right it seems, and here he comes up with one of the worst ideas for a sequel to date. An, oddly enough, given the climate of Hollywood and the creative community, this doesn’t actually seem all that far-fetched. All of this, remarkably, works thanks to the efforts of not only Coogan, but his supporting cast, all of whom just fall into place here remarkably, with each character absolutely working, even if some are out-right cliches (such as the closeted drama student and teacher’s pet).
It’s not a perfect movie, as it does seem to slow down a few times, the concept is still strong and it does manage to successfully pull it off despite of any flaws. Consistency is not a strong-point here, as there were some stretches without a giggle or guffaw to be heard. But, still, when Hamlet 2 gets on a roll, you’ll find yourself rolling along with it. And, as I said earlier, the supporting cast helps the movie roll along nicely, even if some of the cast is underused. Catherine Keener and David Arquette, specifically, don’t have much to do. Arquette has only a handful of dialog and Keener doesn’t come across as all that engaging of a character. I believe there’s a great character there, but she seems to pop in for a few moments here and there, and is actually part of a pretty depressing subplot, and then promptly disappears. It’s a shame because in her final moments of the movie, Keener pulls off some great acting that makes us feel absolutely sorry for her. But then she’s gone and we move right along with nary a mention of her again. Skylar Astin and Phoebe Strole are great as Dana’s most passionate students, and both Amy Poehler and Elisabeth Shue’s have great extended cameos, as well. But the key that holds this all together is Coogan who manages to make the pathetic Marschz someone we can root for.
Overall, Hamlet 2 mostly succeeds with what it sets out to do, and it’s definitely not something everyone will likely get behind. It’s dark, has a vicious mean streak – especially in the treatment of poor Marschz – and a bit inconsistent. As I said above, there are times when the movie does screech to a halt. But it manages to pick itself up quick fast and move right along. Coogan does a remarkable job taking an absolutely unlikeable character, one who’s so pathetic and is essentially a train wreck, and gives us someone to root for. Coogan himself, and the entire third act, are the highlight of the film. Believe me, when the staged version of Hamlet 2 starts up, you will be rolling in the aisles. There’s so many great moments there to quote, many great tunes to hum along to, and many outrageous scenes to drop your jaw to. All in all, Hamlet 2, even if a little flawed, comes Highly Recommended to those who enjoy a little mean pointed humor in their comedies.
Focus Features, released through Unviersal Home Entertainment, has given Hamlet 2 the standard DVD home video release. The disc is packaged in the standard Amaray case, with no inserts or cardboard slipcover to be found. The disc content itself is pretty basic. After a many, many pre-menu trailers, we’re treated to a rather simple menu system. The audio and video for the release appear to be a of great quality. Nothing that’s really reference material, but, still, both the video and audio appear to be rock solid.
Hamlet 2 comes packaged with an adequate amount of extras. They’re not overwhelming or overflowing by any means, but we still get a nice amount of content to chew on. Undoubtedly, a lot of viewers are going to head right to the “Rock Me Sexy Jesus” and “Raped in the Face” sing-alongs, as they should, but there’s also some other great content to be found. On top of what was previously mentioned, we get some deleted content, the typical “making of” featurette,” and a great audio commentary featuring Director/Co-writer Andrew Flemming and Co-writer Pam Brady. Finally, we get a hilarious comparison between the actual Erin Brokovich theatrical movie and the high-school play version done in Hamlet 2 in an inspired extra. Overall, while the content isn’t overflowing by any means, there’s still enough to keep anyone entertained for a couple hours after they finish up with the main feature.
Overall, this is a release that may end up surprising quite a few people, especially those who missed it during its theatrical run. Now, not all will like this movie. Those expecting something along the lines of your typical comedic feature will likely be let down, but for those who enjoy the outrageous and the irreverent will likely take something out of this. Hamlet 2 is one of the most outrageous comedies of the year and that’s no hyper-bole. It manages to take some rather politically incorrect content to the extreme without ever making a big issue over it. It all feels natural, works within the confines of the scripts, and ends up being absolutely hilarious. Those who are easily offended may want to avoid this movie, but if you can take a few potshots and enjoy your comedy a bit dark, then Hamlet 2 comes Highly Recommended. It has an undeniable charm that will hook you in from the opening credits to the final curtain call.
Hamlet 2 is now available on DVD.