Hamlet 2 review

Hamlet 2 (US 2008)
Starring Steve Coogan, written by Andrew Fleming and Pam Brady.

Hamlet 2 unceremoniously completes Steve Coogan’s slow vault into Hollywood, a path that has recently enriched many a British comedian, but as they have donned passable American accents they have also been stripped of the quirks that made them funny (think Eric Idle, Hugh Laurie and more recently Simon Pegg and Eddie Izzard).

The film turns out to be a mess, clearly the product of a tug-of-war between a cringe-humour parody of feel-good American teen musicals (Fame, Dangerous Minds and countless feebler clones) and exactly that kind of movie. This relationship marks many other aspects of the movie: characters begin as oddballs and end as clichés; the more absurd jokes get repeated until they become obvious.

Coogan plays Dana Marschz, a failed actor-cum-suburban drama teacher, who finds himself teaching a class of disinterested slackers. As is wont to happen in these movies, they become inspired to put on a grandiose stage production and turn out to be fantastically talented. The joke that got you into the theatre, the audaciousness of writing a sequel to Shakespeare’s play, peters out. But since these movies turn on a moment of inspiration, it’s disappointing that we don’t really see why anyone would get behind a project like Hamlet 2.

There are some good throwaway lines: student Epiphany Sellars (Phoebe Strole) remarks “I still get nervous around ethnics” when she walks into a class of blacks and Latinos – worth a snicker, but it’s a feeble nod to The Office’s commentary on race. But the race jokes wear thin with ACLU lawyer Cricket Feldstein’s (Amy Poehler) chronic Jewish jokes. She begins likeable but ends up a crass stereotype threatening to sue everyone around her. A hilarious scene in which Dana Marschz inadvertently flashes his balls at his students is needlessly ruined when another character draws attention to it later in the film.

Coogan, meanwhile, attempts to cram an array cringe parodies into his character, from Richard Griffiths-like drama teachers to Ted Danson-esque sentimental Americans. Catherine Keener battles to make sense of her role as Marschz’s partner but he's so irredeemable that we fail to understand her.

Mostly the film’s problem is that its makers are not comfortable with the cringe humour they are experimenting with and feel the need to end with a preposterously successful production of Marschz’s Hamlet 2, without a doubt the least interesting, least funny conclusion imaginable.


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