Rating: 3 stars
As Hamlet 2 begins, a British narrator (uncredited, but I think Jeremy Irons) begins intoning pretentious truisms about the craft of ahcting, as our hero, Dana Marschz (Steve Coogan), is shown in one ignominious acting gig—herpes ad; TV shopping network shill; Xena the Warrior Princess villain—after the other. That disconnect, between harsh reality and Marschz’s high opinion of himself, is at the heart of the movie.
Having failed even as a failed actor, Marschz is now teaching high school drama in Tucson, Arizona where he has two devoted students, a Bible-thumping goody-two-shoes named Epiphany (Phoebe Strole) and a closeted gay sycophant named Rand (Skylar Astin, incredibly funny). His students are content to star in Marschz’s ridiculous reenactments of popular films like Erin Brockovich, until a group of new transfers—mostly Latino—arrive. Epiphany and Rand are mortified by this unruly disruption of their blissful threesome, but Marschz, who tends to view himself as the star of his own life’s movie, is thrilled at the chance to play some heroic cross between Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds and Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society.
Further complications include Catherine Keener, brilliantly funny as Marschz’s bitter and hateful wife (naturally, he thinks he’s the apple of her eye) who is having an affair with the couple’s sub-literate boarder (David Arquette). There’s also the school’s pint-sized drama critic who excoriates all of Marschz’s plays; and the school principal, who wants to shut down the drama department.
In an effort to save his job—and work out his own daddy issues—Marschz decides to write a time-traveling musical, a buddy play of sorts, featuring Jesus and Hamlet (together at last!) called Hamlet 2. Sample song? "Rock Me Sexy Jesus." Other sample songs? Not appropriate for this family-friendly blog.
Of course, the school wants to shut down the production, which gets the ACLU involved in the form of ball-busting lawyer Cricket Feldstein (Amy Poehler, always welcome). Also, somehow Elisabeth Shue is on hand, playing herself.
Those not familiar with British actor Steve Coogan are in for a treat—he’s great at displaying the fragility of the human ego (particularly the type that over-compensates with false bravado) and he fully commits to all of Marschz’s delusions of grandeur. However, both his performance and the film itself owe a debt of gratitude to Christopher Guest’s Waiting For Guffman, which Hamlet 2 strongly resembles.
The movie elicits many chuckles along the way, but reserves its real belly laughs for the final act, when the profane Hamlet 2 is finally staged. It’s brilliantly bad—but, of course, Marschz would only focus on the fact that I called it brilliant.