The greatest movies are the ones that get remade even though there is little chance that the magical elements that perfectly fit in the original can be repeated with any sort of regularity. Truthfully, Hamlet 2 is the kind of film that deserves to be revisited because of the inspiring and outrageous idea that suffers from poor execution. Hamlet 2 still has brief moments of hilarity but that pales in comparison to the lack of continuity both within its tone and message.
Steve Coogan stars Dana Marschz, a former actor turned high school drama teacher, who is still reeling from the failure of his latest film to stage adaptation, Erin Brockovich. After confronting the school’s drama critic, who is his nemesis for constantly demanding creative material from the plays while panning every pathetic production, Marschz is informed by the principal that the drama department will be contracting based on monetary concerns. It would be funny if just once the football team was forced to hold off getting new equipment for another few years but theatre was allowed to stay.
For Marschz, there is a daily reminder of disappointment as he comes home to his wife, Brie (Catherine Keener), who he slowly begins to discover is an unpleasant person, and roommate (David Arquette), a complete moron. Marschz was forced to seek a roommate after his agent stopped considering him for acting jobs and Brie decided that the profession she previously mastered was morally questionable and, therefore, should not be done by her anymore.
Although Brie encourages him to simply give up on theatre and find a real job, Marschz decides to produce a final play with massive production values he has kept bottled up in his head for years, Hamlet 2. The concept, which is muddled and sketchy at best, mainly consists of the events that would take place if Jesus and Hamlet were to become celebrities in this present day, star crazed environment. Although this scenario seems like promising satire that is both funny and intelligent, the subject matter is also a lightning rod for controversy.
The biggest problem with Hamlet 2 is that it never makes the comedic choices necessary to make the laughter consistent or pointed. At first, the film establishes the main character’s love of theatre as a futile enterprise because of his lack of talent and its unpopularity before making his dream come true. If the film was a sadistic, hard-hitting comedy about the trials of theatre or a sweet, passive examination of a teacher finally finding his way to greatness, it may have been successful, but it fails to satisfy in either story because of the constant juggling act that does not work.
The director, Andrew Fleming, whose credits include the innovative and witty 1999 film Dick, either misses prime opportunities for laughter in evaluating censorship or makes poor comic decisions through the ways he proceeds with the story. It was written by Fleming and Pam Brady with a sure eye for comedy but a lack of conviction in the ingenuity of their ideas that is alarming, causing the laughter not to flourish as it should. They have taken a talented cast and saddled some with either uninteresting or unlikable characters whose uselessness sinks the film into a pool of mediocrity.
Steve Coogan, a British comedian who was one of the few standouts in Tropic Thunder, brings an insane, comic energy to the proceedings that makes him incessantly interesting to watch. Catherine Keener, that great actress nominated for Best Supporting Actress in Being John Malkovich and also appeared in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, is a mean wretch of a woman with no redeeming value whatsoever. Her character is hideous and, worst of all, unbelievably unfunny. David Arquette’s character is a predictable bore who brings nothing to the film and Amy Poehler plays an ACLU lawyer whose sole purpose is to yell and be annoying in the vein attempt to garner a few laughs, which does not succeed. It is great to see the limitless talents of Elisabeth Shue, who gave one of the greatest female lead performances in Leaving Las Vegas, being put to use in any capacity, even if she is not given much to work with.
The performances by all of the actors are skillfully done, but their destinies are predictable and predetermined, making their character arcs flat line. Coogan does not disappoint as the one person in the film with something tangible to work with, but the rest of the cast is in a different, awkward, and unfunny world without the ability to surprise. Hamlet 2 certainly has its moments of brilliance and joviality, but the finished product is a slight, unfortunate disappointment, which is something even that pesky little drama critic would not argue.
Stars: * * 1/2Grade: C+MPAA: Rated R for language including sexual references, brief nudity, and some drug content.Running Time: 92 Minutes