August 27, 2008
There's a moment near the end of Hamlet 2 when Elizabeth Shue (in a terrific "return" to the screen) is sitting in an audience watching the stage production of "Hamlet 2". She's laughing out loud and clapping while the people around her are simply staring in baffled amusement, as if their brains are working overtime trying to pay attention to the musical while also figuring out why she's laughing so much more than them. The scenario is a pretty accurate depiction of my time in the theater watching Hamlet 2. Boisterous laughing would explode from different corners of the theater at different times, and all I could is nervously smile and wonder why I was missing so many of the jokes.
Writer/Director Andrew Fleming (Dick, Nancy Drew) infuses enough easy comedy in his story of a washed-up actor turned high school drama teacher to make Hamlet 2 a light summer flick, but it never quite reaches the level of hilarity that you could rightfully expect from its cast, which includes Steve Coogan (Tropic Thunder), Catherine Keener (Into the Wild), Amy Poehler ("SNL", Baby Mama), Shue, and Melonie Diaz (Be Kind Rewind), who seems to be challenging Ellen Page for the number of high school-age characters she can play in consecutive movies.
The most glaring problem in Hamlet 2 is that the entire weight of the comedy is on the shoulders of Coogan, and it's a load that he can't sustain on his own for 92 minutes. The supporting cast is simply there to receive his jokes (most of which are immature and inane), and none of them offer much on their own. Compare this with the rich characters in something like Waiting for Guffman (which could have produced multiple spin-offs), and you have an idea of how one-dimensional Hamlet 2 is. Moreover, its efforts at poking fun at high school drama programs, Dangerous Minds, and even Elizabeth Shue's career aren't as clever as they should be. In fact, two of the funniest jokes happen to come at the expense of the city of Tucson, AZ, simply because they are two of the jokes that we don't see coming a mile away.
If there is a highlight aside from Coogan's performance, it's the climactic performance of the musical's outrageous showstopper "Rock Me Sexy Jesus," which, while irreverent, is not as outwardly offensive as it may seem. Ironically, had we seen more of the actual stage production of "Hamlet 2", it may have made for a better movie.