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STUDIO: Universal Studios
RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes
• Deleted Scene
• Making Number Two: Behind The Scenes
• Sing Along With Hamlet 2
• Oscar Winner vs High School Drama Class
• Audio Commentary with Director/Co-Writer Andrew Fleming and Co-writer Pam Brady
Dangerous Minds meets Waiting For Guffman. Add 45% more man-ass.
Steve Coogan, Catherine Keener, David Arquette, Amy Poehler, and Elisabeth Shue
An eccentric failed actor attempts to inspire an unruly high school drama class and expel his personal demons by writing a controversial sequel to Hamlet.
There’s a moment in Hamlet 2 where Steve Coogan’s Dana Marschz (pick a pronounciation) approaches his harshest critic, an 11 year old kid writing for the school paper, about the idea of doing a sequel to the Shakespeare play, and he asks an all important question: “What if it sucks?” The critic answers the question simply enough, but really, the film spends the rest of its running time answering that question. The answers Marschz’s play and the movie itself provide are better than one might expect. The film is a celebration of art and the artist, encouraging both to take chances, to never back down in the face of criticism or censorship, to let creativity be the wild force it damn well should be. Moreover, it is a wonderful display of the power it has to set the creator and the audience free in one fell swoop.
It’s almost enough to make you forget the film has a gentle, lilting ballad about being raped in the face.
“That’s the guy who made this dashiki. He ain’t here, but I’ll gladly fuck you up in his stead.”
Hamlet 2 is definitely everything you’d expect from Pam Brady, who’s been a creative consultant on South Park since Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, even co-writing on Team America. It pushes the envelope of good taste hard and often for no other reason than to push the envelope. It has a love/hate relationship with the film stereotypes it sets out to parody but never forgets it needs to tell its own story first and foremost. But there’s something very different and very special about this film compared to, say, Team America. Hamlet 2 starts out as a parody of all those “Big Daddy White Man Will Tame Those Savage Minorities No Matter What” high school films, with a stereotypical tortured artist at its center. Actually, that parody is the weakest part of the film. The film seems flippantly interested in that parody to begin with, paying it mostly lipservice after the awkward initial scene where we’re introduced to these students falls absolutely flat.
Instead, the film uses it as a foundation for the more interesting story, namely chronicling Dana Marschz’s struggles getting the play made while his world is on the brink of collapse. The school is shutting down the drama department, his wife (played with deadly venom by Catherine Keener) hates him, and yet still wants his kids, and every new idea he conjures for his play is met with scorn and controversy from the community. But while even he has his moments of doubt, Marschz soldiers on, full throttle, throwing himself and his twisted mind head-on into the project, getting it done however he can, even at the expense of his own sanity. There is plenty of hilarity to be found watching it all come together, wondering why the hell a sequel to a Shakespeare play needs Yuen Wo Ping-style wire work, or how a group sex scene between Hamlet, Polonius, Laertes, and Gertrude even fits into anything, let alone a high school musical, but really, it’s all about the pathos leading to the actual performance. We don’t see the entire thing unfold, just the greatest hits so to speak, but even with the showstopping musical numbers about sexy Jesus, Hamlet and Laertes having a lightsaber fight, and the time traveling sex chamber, the most shocking thing is that, somehow, the play works.
The play is hilarious when it needs to be, surprisingly poignant, challenges preconceptions about what art should be, and the best part, makes the people who complained without having seen a single choreographed moment look like assholes. Every batshit crazy idea thrown about in the film comes down to this, and one can’t help but smile realizing Marschz, and the film itself, actually pulled it off.
A generous portion of the praise can be laid at the feet of Pam Brady and Andrew Fleming (who co-wrote and directed), for sure. Their journey with the film mirrors Dana Marschz’s, starting simply with an idea (the film was going to be a much more straightforward inspirational film parody at one point), running with it farther than expected, and stumbling onto brilliance as a result. The supporting cast is ahealthy mix of “I know the face, but not the name” character actors, and complete newcomers who do quite a bit with relatively little (the two evangelical Christian students in particular). Out of the seasoned pros, only David Arquette is denied his moment to shine. Everyone else is spot on, especially Elizabeth Shue, playing herself in a series of wonderfully bitter meta cameos throughout the film.
The real winner here, however, is Steve Coogan. I must admit to being a newcomer to this love train. Prior to this, the only thing I’d seen him in where he was onscreen for more than 10 minutes was Lies and Alibis, a movie I actually really enjoyed, but where Coogan is very much the straight man. Here, however, Coogan’s performance is a thing of Gene Wilder-ish beauty, balancing pure unhinged eccentricity, with just the right amount of vulnerable, unyielding optimism to make us believe his students would truly take pity on him enough to see the play through to the end, or that his wife would genuinely feel sorry about leaving him alone. The film rests on his shoulders, and he carries it easily. It’s going to go down as one of the truly underrated performances from last year.
In one scene halfway through the film, Marschz takes an insane suggestion from one of his students, approves it, dances about it, and exclaims “We are not making safe theater!” It’s the moment where I realized the film was a bit more than just parody. It raises a glass to anyone with crazy dreams, and tells them, whether they succeed or not, to just go for broke. Getting through this movie the same weekend Paul Blart Mall Cop tops the box office, Marschz and his offensive ideas provide a filthy but refreshing respite from chosen mediocrity. Whether they float your boat or not, you at least have to admit, it’s a hell of a lot more interesting than “safe theater”.
Hey, here’s another crazy idea: A DVD with a tiny number of special features, but none of them suck!
There’s a single deleted scene with Marschz and his wife trying to get pregnant, but it’s a great one that wouldn’t have been terribly out of place in the finished film, especially since it actually gives David Arquette something to do.
The Making-Of Docs, besides making three easy poop jokes, are actually right in line with the humor of the film, with strange awkward moments between Coogan and his castmates, cameo appearances from Jesus and Albert Einstein, with only Pam Brady keeping her resolve, and yet, even with all that going on, you still get the gist of what the genesis and making of the film was like.
There’s a fun little singalong feature for “Raped In the Face” and “Rock Me Sexy Jesus”. There’s an amusing full comparison between the recreation of Erin Brockovich at the start of the film, and the real deal. Lastly, there’s commentary by Pam Brady and Andrew Fleming. It’s a dry, sedate track that could’ve really benefited from Steve Coogan’s manic energy, but the two hold their own, and keep things informative and engaging enough. It’s a small collection of features, but all of them are satisfying. Definitely a rare thing these days.
Lastly, a minor warning: I’ve viewed the disc on three different DVD players, and in all three, the cursor on the special features menu is invisible. It’s easy enough to navigate around it, but still weird.