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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

REVIEW - "Hamlet 2" (2008)

After I first watched “Hamlet 2,” I was quite surprised by how much I liked it and how it definitely exceeded expectations. Steve Coogan has a great amount of talent and the story, as strange as it was, is a comically intriguing take on “Dead Poets Society.” So what keeps it from being memorable? It’s probably best to describe “Hamlet 2” as a good flick caught in its mediocre struggle to be a comedic masterpiece. What it offers tends to be far more promising than what it really is.

Steve Coogan plays Dana Marschz, a failed actor who has taken up the role of a high school drama teacher. Finding himself with a class full of gangs and apathetic hoodlums, Marschz ventures to get respect by writing a sequel to “Hamlet” which involves the prince and Jesus time traveling to Hamlet’s beginnings. As he struggles to bring his story to life he is faced with budget cuts, a wavering relationship with his wife and an inability to pay off his home.

Sounds like a winner, no? It’s interesting to note that this movie is as irreverent as “Tropic Thunder” with its racial slurs and bastardized take on both Hamlet and Jesus. So why doesn’t it work as well? “Tropic Thunder” is able to reel out its insensitivities with ease—And it only gets funnier as it does it. Now, it’s not that “Hamlet 2” isn’t funny in similar ways, but it tends to try harder. Too hard. Whereas “Tropic Thunder” paced itself well, “Hamlet 2” tends to pack in as much as it can to top the irreverent comedy subgenre—Never going too far, but always trying to do too much at once.

The aspect that keeps “Hamlet 2” from collapsing on itself is the film’s lead Steve Coogan. His awkward character is littered with a lovable panache that keeps the audience attentive and hopeful for his ambitions. Oh. Yeah. He’s also pretty bleepin’ funny. Coogan appears to be no stranger to physical comedy and yet he balances it well with some clever writing. He is truly the only actor that makes the story work.

The rest of the characters feel like an ant farm colony being held by Coogan. They’re always on screen, they’re always doing something funny and they’re always furthering the story, but they don’t do anything on their own. The supporting stars hardly develop and as a result the bad-class-turned-skilled-actors subplot is lost in transition to Marscz’s passion for bringing Hamlet 2 on stage.

While the poor pacing from subplot to subplot is a little jarring, “Hamlet 2” has a script that makes it easy to forgive. The best part is how it constantly refers to Marscz’s sequel to the famous Shakespeare play. The reactions to what we have yet seen on stage are quite funny and, as a result, build anticipation for the film’s absurd finale. When Coogan and crew climb onstage to deliver the long awaited play the film comes full circle. It’s a trip! And if you’re easily offended it’s clearly not the movie you should be watching.

For “Hamlet 2” there is a misconception that more is better. While it performs well when it’s not so poorly paced, it does tend to try and be the best at what it does. It’s funniest at its minimum delivery and weakest during its obvious ambition. Despite its flaws I hope to see Coogan in more films. He tends to make the most of whatever he’s doing.

**½ out of ****

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