I saw Hamlet 2 yesterday, and it's pretty good.
Steve Coogan plays high school drama teacher Dana Marschz (pronounced 'Mar-sc-t-z' as a four-syllable word) who produces the high school play at a school in Tuscon every year. He is frustrated because he realizes his talent does not quite live up to his love of the craft, and he is beleagured by the harsh reviews in the local paper. The high school paper. Whose critic is a 14-year old boy, who seems to know more about drama than Dana does.
The current trimester opens with a bunch of new 'ethnic' students (the film's word, not mine) joining the two loyal drama geeks in Dana's one course, which is taught in the school cafeteria, where the lunch ladies are unpacking the food in the background. Following the advice of his critic, Dana decides to write his own play: Hamlet 2.
The thinking behind Hamlet 2 is that Hamlet is just a bit too sad. Dana finds it too sad that everybody is dead at the end of Hamlet. How do you fix that? With a time machine! And Jesus comes along to help! The plot starts in current day, where Jesus has a "swimmer's bod", hence "Rock Me, Sexy Jesus", the play's musical medley. And the play goes from there.
When Dana cuts down the lines of Laertes, who's played by his male drama geek, Rand (played by Skylar Astin) and also makes Laertes "bi-curious", this sets off a chain of events leading to the school banning the play. And that gets the attention of the local press. And that gets the attention of the ACLU.
At this point, the plot is clear, and it's what you expect from the film trailers. But the trailers are misleading: this is more than a film filled with offensive bits designed to tweak the Religious Right. I think the advertising for this film doesn't do it justice. Steve Coogan does a really good job making Dana Marschz into a consistent, believable character. The supporting cast is good, too, esp. the high school kids, and Elizabeth Shue has a nice bit in a supporting role playing herself (well, kind of).
Steve Coogan has been a big deal in the UK for quite some time. He's excellent at developing interesting, off-beat characters in comedy. He's had small roles in "Night at the Museum" and "Tropic Thunder", but he really presents a great work here. It's too bad that it's gotten drowned by a misguided advertising campaign and a reactionary ostrich campaign by the religious right, who completely overreact to the way Jesus plays a role in this film.
The film is more about bad art than about religion. It's a celebration of the idea that anybody can be creative, and about overcoming negative voices. (Actual human voices - not psychosis, as Dana explains.) Also, it's interesting watching Steve Coogan at work. With comedy, a lot of the value comes from expectation, and when comedy doesn't follow the lines that the audience expects, often people do not react well to it. Sometimes when I'm watching Steve Coogan, or Simon Pegg, or Ricky Gervais, or the ensemble comedy 'Green Wing', I'm confused by the feeling that I don't know where it is going. I pretty much never have that feeling with American comedies. At first this is disorienting, but I've really come to like it.
From box office returns, it looks like Hamlet 2 won't be in theaters long. I hope it will have a good life on cable and on DVD. It should be around for years on Comedy Central, like "Best in Show".