Movie Review: 'Hamlet 2'
Bible-Bard mash-up saved by star Coogan
I didn't think much of this movie at its Sundance premiere in January, where "Hamlet 2" fetched a $10 million distribution bid from Focus Features. Maybe I was sitting in the No Laughing section. It seemed sloppy and toothless in its spoofy depiction of intolerant yahoos versus the forces of free-thinking artistic expression. But a second viewing proved more interesting, mostly for Coogan's burbling way of making cluelessness priceless. I suggest, therefore, that you see it a second time and skip the first.
The premise recalls "Waiting for Guffman," and its protagonist is an unofficial cousin of Corky St. Clair. Coogan plays a sometime actor who runs a makeshift high school drama program in Tucson. His name is virtually impossible to pronounce correctly: Dana Marschz, and the way Coogan corrects everyone on that last name, it comes out "Marsch"-pause-skip-"zah."
Tucson is not kind to Dana. His boozy, hostile wife (Catherine Keener) offers little solace, and budget cuts threaten the high school drama classes. Then Dana bets his soul on his magnum opus, a sequel to "Hamlet" that allows the Danish prince to deal with his unresolved father issues, marry the presumed-drowned Ophelia and share the stage with Jesus Christ, who leads the high school chorus in a show tune called "Rock Me Sexy Jesus." The town is ripped asunder by the controversy—is this abomination trash or art or arty trash or trashy art or what?
The film slips around in terms of tone and goes every which way. Elisabeth Shue plays a version of herself, gamely. The scenes between Coogan and Keener appear to have wriggled free from a Cassavetes film. My favorite bit is Coogan's Dana meeting with Shue for the first time—a breathless fan coming upon one of his idols. The wobbly bits in "Hamlet 2" involve the scenes built upon the "Dangerous Minds" mind-set, tuned for comedy, wherein Dana wrestles with an uneasy mixture of dweeby Anglo and surly Hispanic kids, destined to be brought together in the "Hamlet" sequel.
In a recent New York Times interview, Fleming acknowledged he suggested to Coogan that Dana be played with a British dialect. No go, Coogan said, and as related by Fleming, "finally he explained that this kind of unbridled enthusiasm without any intelligence behind it just doesn't exist in England. There's no equivalent." Is the jolly mediocrity embodied by Dana Marschz a uniquely American phenomenon? I wonder. The film isn't the vehicle the character deserves, and certainly not what the actor deserves. But it has its moments.
See the trailer and find local showtimes for "Hamlet 2."