Friday, November 06, 2009

Hamlet 2

Hamlet II (2008, dir. Andrew Fleming) is one of the most stupid yet entertaining films I’ve seen in a while. Although it ultimately falters by taking itself a bit too seriously, it remains engaging throughout. One can see how this film might have begun as a television comedy skit that didn’t make it to primetime—it’s focused on a deluded high school drama teacher who satisfies his frustrated ambitions by writing and directing a series of bad plays based on movies, and on the two students who idolize him, a gender-confused boy and a girl who is unaware of her own talents. The film plops down one bad joke on top of another, until, unexpectedly, improbably, the bad jokes take on a kind of momentum, a critical mass. Everything is silly and played for laughs, from the appearance of the actress Elizabeth Shue playing herself as a nurse to Amy Poehler’s role as an ACLU attorney.

When the high school principal cuts funding to the drama program, the drama coach Mr. Marschz (the pronunciation of his name is a constant issue) resolves to put on a musical that will raise funds to save the program. The musical he writes for this event is a sequel to Shakespeare’s great tragedy, a sequel in which Hamlet uses a time machine to go back in time to prevent the deaths and murders of everyone who dies in the original, thereby allowing a happy ending. Mr. Marschz (Steve Coogan) blithely and profoundly unaware of his own silliness, of everything that is happening around him, including the obvious affair between his wife and their border. This is one of the keys to the film’s success. Although he is miserable and although everything seems to be going against him (he loses his job, his wife leaves him, the high school principal won’t allow him to produce the play, and so on), he stumbles forward.

Hamlet II alludes to, borrows from, and satirizes an impressive range of sources, from bad songs of the 80s to Elton John to Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure to Dangerous Minds to Shakespeare himself. It is ridiculous, offensive, and hilarious. In the end, Mr. Marschz’s bad and absurd play is actually moving. I might have hoped for a different ending to this film, one more consistent with the overall foolish tone, but as it is, Hamlet 2 is fun. And, yes, “Rock Me Sexy Jesus” is, well, what can you say?

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