Hamlet 2, director Andrew Fleming’s hilariously quirky and unpredictable film stars Steve Coogan as Dana Marschz — a failed actor who decides to try his luck as a high school drama teacher, “where dreams go to die,” in Tucson, Ariz. His drama department consists of only two students, who put on dismal adaptations of Hollywood hits such as Erin Brockovich that are largely ignored. He is harassed by everyone from a lisping ninth grader who writes scathing reviews of his plays in the school newspaper, a tyrannical principal who sees no value in the arts, and his wife, Brie (Catherine Keener) who is more than a little bitter about their low income and Dana’s low sperm count.
Unexpectedly, Dana is informed that the drama department will be dropped at the end of the semester just as an influx of inner city students whose school is infected with asbestos, joins him for the last term. In a hilarious scene, he tries to rally them, citing examples of inspirational moments from Mr. Holland’s Opus, Dangerous Minds and Dead Poet’s Society. If you are a teacher or have worked with children in any capacity, you quickly realize as Dana does, that children are more likely to throw a desk at you than stand on top of one in homage to your excellence. Somehow — you move on and recalibrate.
Faced with disgrace and impending unemployment, Dana decides to “not go gently into that good night” by penning a (somewhat) original work, Hamlet 2, perhaps the most unlikely sequel ever, as all of the main characters and some secondary characters die by the play’s end. Dana solves that problem by incorporating a time machine into the plot — and somehow, race relations, his unresolved conflict with his father, and Jesus also work their way into the narrative. The kids get involved and actually start to care as they design costumes, orchestrate sound and rehearse their parts. Things reach a fever pitch when the ACLU (represented by Amy Poehler as Cricket Feldstein) fight for the play’s performance as parents and the community protest the offensive content of the play that includes musical numbers such as “Rock Me Sexy Jesus” and “Raped in the Face,” which admittedly may be one of the most horrific turns of phrase ever uttered, but for the movie, it somehow works.
Hamlet 2 takes no prisoners with everything from race, religion and political correctness, being fair game. Its R rating is justly deserved making it somewhat questionable for teens but completely appropriate for adults able to appreciate irreverent humor and innuendo. The only real tragedy here is that this daring and vibrant film, that made a splash at Sundance, is being lost in a sea of movies currently glutting the box office. Hamlet 2 may not exactly be Shakespeare — but it is worthy of some more time and attention.
Hamlet 2 is now playing at the Beverly and Savoy cinemas.
Runtime: 1h 32min — Rated R — Comedy