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“Rock Me Sexy Jesus!” — Josh Reviews Hamlet 2

Hamlet 2 tells the story of frustrated actor-turned-high school drama teacher Dana Marschz (a nearly-unpronounceable last name, for which I was eager to learn the correct spelling by watching the film’s end credits) played by Steve Coogan (so funny this past summer in Tropic Thunder).  Dana is not-dissimilar to Christopher Guest’s Corky St. Clair (from the terrific film Waiting For Guffman) although rather more pathetic (and more prone to accidentally flashing his genitals).  Even in teaching, Dana is struggling to find success.  He only has two loyal students, and the school plays that he supervises (such as a recent stage version of Erin Brockovich) are continually savaged by the school paper’s young drama critic.

Things go from bad to worse when the school decides to cut most of its electives, filling Dana’s drama class with an unruly mob of kids who have no desire to be there.  But Dana is inspired to write a new play — a musical sequel to Hamlet that will correct that play’s downer ending — and sets out to get all of his kids involved.  What follows is a sort-of-insane mish-mash of inspiring-teacher movies (Dead Poets Society, Mr. Holland’s Opus, Dangerous Minds) with kids-coming-together-to-create-a-musical films.

The movie is all over the place.  It’s at its best when it allows Mr. Coogan to depict his slow-burn desperation to connect with the kids in his class.  There are also a number of amusing digressions, such as Dana’s encounter with Elisabeth Shue (playing herself), who has decided to give up acting in favor of life as a nurse; explorations of his home-life with his bitter wife Brie (the very funny Catherine Keener) and their new tenant Gary (David Arquette, who is hysterical in his nearly-silent role); and the appearance of civil liberties lawyer Cricket Feldstein (a fast-talking Amy Poehler).

There are also some stretches of the movie that don’t quite work, and a lot of jokes that are weird but not necessarily all that funny.  More problematically, there were times when, even in a ridiculous movie like this, I wished the characters had been fleshed out a little bit more.  There wasn’t that much depth given to most of the new students in Dana’s class, and I didn’t really believe that they would ever willingly decide to participate in Dana’s play.  That’s a key transition that the film needs to make, both for the plot and for all the character story-lines, and the fact that I don’t think it worked hurt the film for me.

But in the end, a film called Hamlet 2 lives or dies on the ultimate performance of the titular play itself — and let me tell you, those moments are gold.  You’ll be humming the tune to “Rock Me, Sexy Jesus” (yes, Jesus Christ is a major character in Dana’s Hamlet 2 production, which focuses on Jesus’ Bill and Ted style adventure through time) long after you’ve finished watching the film.  

In the end, like Dana Marschz, I can’t say that Hamlet 2 is a complete success.  But it’s still a lot of fun.

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