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Prepare to be Offended
by Martin Malloy on Aug 22, 2008
Dana Marsch (or however you want to pronounce it) exclaims towards the end of Hamlet 2, “my life is a parody of a tragedy.” Except that it’s completely entertaining to watch. A hit at Sundance, Hamlet 2 is not actually a sequel to the famed play by The Bard, but chronicles the making of such a ludicrous idea. It turns out that it may not be such a terrible endeavor.
Steve Coogan plays Dana Marsch, the over the top, wannabe thespian forever chasing his dream. Like Ricky Gervais' character in HBO’s "Extras" his claim to fame are bit parts such as a commercial for a herpes medication, and a guest spot on "Xena: Warrior Princess". However, unlike Gervais, Marsch lacks talent and is just a tad overzealous. That's probably why he ends up in Tucson, AZ, teaching drama at the local high school with only 2 students who are just as ridiculous as he is.
His nemesis is a freshman reporter for the school paper who continuously trashes Marsch’s stage adaptations of blockbuster films like Erin Brokovich. Hoping to put on a production that will earn him the credibility he believes he deserves, he finally finds the opportunity in a group of students who are dumped into his class. Marsch soon imagines himself in a situation similar to Michelle Pfieffer in Dangerous Minds and attempts to win over the unruly students.
His ability to continually mock himself and his unrelenting earnestness slowly wins over the attention of the class but just as he is given news that the drama department will be will shut down. Now, with the help of his students, he sets out to put on one last production that will convince the school board to keep his class. Instead of another Hollywood film, he decides to produce an original idea -- his sequel to “Hamlet”.
Co-written by "South Park" scribe Pam Brady, the humor is disgusting, offensive and, therefore, hilarious. The play's musical number "Rock Me Sexy Jesus" is reminiscent of "Everybody's Got AIDS" from the South Park team's Team America: World Police marionette feature. The performances, especially Coogan's, also come off as cartoonish, but this isn't a film for those looking for a real soul searcher. However, the brilliant Catherine Keener does ground the film in some sort of reality as Steve's depressed wife, Brie, who is hoping for a baby and has lost all hope of ever leaving Tucson.
The film's most surprising delights come in the form of cameos from Elizabeth Shue and David Arquette. Shue plays an alter-ego of herself who has ditched the crummy Hollywood life for a job as a fertility clinic doctor in Tucson. She's also just happens to be Steve's favorite actress. Arquette plays the (mostly) silent boarder of the Marschz's who is the object of Brie's continuous scorn. His lack of personality is a great foil to Coogan's wide-eyed Steve. Amy Poehler also takes on a hilarious role as Steve's ACLU attorney, battling for his right to free speech. She doesn't care so much for Steve or his play, but just for the power, money and fun of the game.
The film is not a home run, the pacing and the editing could use some work, but it's solid and the laughs are aplenty. Coogan will definitely make his mark with this film and it will hopefully boost his career as a leading man. The students are also enjoyable, the one notable being Melonie Diaz from last year's Be Kind Rewind. In the end it falls somewhere between Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and 40 Year-Old Virgin, combining the former's slapstick with the latter's ability to retain some heart and soul, and comes out as a good, well-made film which is a must see for anyone looking to leave out of breath and with a bruised rib cage.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
by Martin Malloy on Aug 22, 2008