Kevin's Review: Hamlet 2 - Definitely Not Shakespeare, But Worth It All the Same
by Kevin Powers
August 23, 2008
His role as faux film director Damien Cockburn in Tropic Thunder was fleeting and forgettable, but Brit funnyman Steve Coogan is the sacrilegious heart and soul of Hamlet 2, a film as offbeat, laughable and endearing as the play it portrays. As the failed actor, Dana Marschz, who resorts to teaching high school drama in Arizona, Coogan is positively hysterical, beaming optimism at every obstacle - a disposition that nearly smacks of mental disability. Coogan's unique delivery and wit is something you'll either embrace up like Jesus' love - Coogan, after all, does play the messiah in "Rock Me Sexy Jesus" - or, like pleated khakis, it may not be your particular style. Hamlet 2 is arguably Coogan's coming out party, speaking strictly in terms of his stateside career. The comedian has been around for some time across the pond, but largely has gathered small roles domestically - literally, as thumb-sized Octavius in Night at the Museum.
Written and directed by Andrew Flemming (Nancy Drew of all things) along with South Park-writer Pam Bady, Hamlet 2 surrounds Dana's struggle to keep his drama program alive in the face of school cut-backs. The former commercial actor never helped secure much relevance for the program, being that the department was made up of two humdrum drama students who shelved anything considered classic and enacted plays based on mainstream blockbusters. (Coogan joked recently that following the department's "Hamlet 2" production, they probably would have tackled FX's "The Shield.") The department grows exponentially when another school program is canceled and a group of what most would consider "inner-city youths" joins the awkward threesome. From there, we witness a sequence of scenes that is in many ways Coogan's own take on Dangerous Minds.
Through Coogan's quirky style, his character breaks down the walls of culture and drama-stigma, bonding with the new students to come together and hold a final unlikely production in the hopes of saving the department. "Hamlet 2" draws the ire of the high school higher-ups due to its "modern" approach to the subject matter, and the play is subsequently canceled. Not unlike organizing a rave, the resourceful students find a warehouse and equipment to host the production instead. Through obligatory missteps and setbacks, the play goes on, even with a good part of Tucson in attendance.
As Dana fights to save his department, he also fights to save his marriage. The butch, brass Katherine Keener plays Coogan's wife, Brie, who is less than happy with her husband's melancholy career, especially since it's forced her to take on a boarder, spoon-sharp Gary, played by David Arquette. Dana's life is in disarray on all fronts, which makes Coogan's half-glass-full performance all the more disturbingly funny. Hamlet 2 is all about Coogan's particular style of comedy, which in my mind, is unflinchingly ardent and first-rate. A cameo by Adventures in Babysitting fave Elisabeth Shue (as herself, no less) and a religion-offending jingle makes the film one of the most eccentric and earnest comedies this year. For anyone who is a Coogan fan, you simply must see it. For those who might be meeting him for the first time, Hamlet 2 is definitely the introduction to Coogan you need.