“My heart’s been stepped on like a baby kitten”
If you have any predilection for being offended or hail from the quaint city of Tucson, Arizona, stay far away from Andrew Fleming’s Hamlet 2. To say it pulls no punches and could care less about being politically correct would be an understatement. With a song titled “Rock Me Sexy Jesus” and racism/bigotry running rampant, not to mention more that will make you question the meaning of decency, do not be surprised that it’s a film with a polarizing effect. A much talked about Sundance hit, you will be easily able to find a lot of bad press and scathing reviews. Much like the play Dana Marschz is attempting to put on at the high school he teaches in, religious zealots and liberal whack-jobs come out of the woodwork to show their disgust for a piece of art they have not seen to be able to accurately judge. It is definitely not for everyone, and I don’t even know who I could genuinely recommend it to as a surefire hit besides the friend I attended the screening with, but for this sarcasm-loving, don’t hold back on an opportunity to exploit anything for a joke kind of guy, I loved it.
OK, maybe love is a strong word. About halfway through I was thinking about how the jokes were becoming a bit slow and while funny, the story wasn’t quite clicking with me. However, soon came the fruition of all the drug-induced, bi-polar craziness with the actual performance of Hamlet 2 on stage for the sold-out crowd filled with detractors, interested parties, confused family members, and people just trying to get in on the experience. If you saw Team America: World Police and recall the scene with a performance of “Lease”, their play on “Rent”, you can begin to comprehend the utter absurdity and absolute hilarity of what is shown. Multiply that to the nth degree and sit back to experience laughter that will make you cringe at the fact you are laughing. And to top it all off, we are treated to some sprinklings of physical comedy—the wirework expunging of our two lightsaber wielding actors—and choreography that only enhances the words being spoken.
Revolving around the very real prospect in many small cities across America of the potential to have the arts cut from school budget, Hamlet 2 is about a failed actor, (he has long accepted his lack of talent), trying for once to show he has a pair of low-hangers to save his job and the craft he believes can inspire children into following their dreams. What begins as a pipe dream itself, backhandedly advised by a very young, yet extremely articulate, school film reviewer, snowballs into an event that brings the ACLU’s attention as well as the minds of many “troubled” kids to trade the street for the “leotard”. It’s blasphemy to even think about writing a sequel to Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” let alone bringing Jesus in as a celebrity sex symbol, along with many other references to Hilary Clinton, Albert Einstein, and Dick Cheney. This is a creative work of genius, if nothing else. True you may find it offensive and down right trashy, but you have to at least show the respect for an artist to take a vision and not compromise it one iota before showing to the public. One thing you cannot accuse this film of is pandering to the masses in order to make money; no its blatantly giving the finger to all of us, wearing its unassuming bigotry on its sleeve like many of the clueless members of our society.
None of it could have been pulled off without the help of star Steve Coogan. He encompasses the shy, passive, loser to full effect, complete with outbursts of strength that soon explode into fear and embarrassment as he runs for cover. His awkward use of English is also great as his similes and metaphors never quite work as effectively as he may want, instead showing latent cruelty and sick-mindedness like with the heading of this review; oh and phrases like “it feels like I was raped…in the face.” Coogan is likeable as an everyman without all his wits, bumbling through life, falling into situations that help him to enhance his work and make it into the smash hit it could be. Without the pain he never could have written what his character of Marschz does. And you can’t help but fall in love with his rendition of Jesus as jean wearing Weird Al Yankovic.
The supporting cast is fantastic as well, showing some nice things from small players like Melonie Diaz, David Arquette, and Catherine Keener. Arquette is funny pretty much because he’s asked to portray a person so unlike the image we have of him. Rather than be manic and in constant motion he is practically a mute, sluggishly going through life with little to no emotion. Amy Poehler also has a good cameo as the ACLU lawyer ready to make some coin off of the slam dunk First Amendment case the controversy breeds. Harkening back to her “Upright Citizens Brigade” days, this role is crass and deadpan, effective mostly by the juxtaposition of her diminutive size and sharp, biting tongue. The real scene-stealer, though, is Elizabeth Shue, playing Elizabeth Shue. This meta-character is added as a foil to Coogan’s failed actor wanting to desperately get into the business. She instead was successful and needed to get out. In a very self-deprecating role, Shue shows that she is still gorgeous and possibly ready for a comeback to the big screen.
Again, though, I shouldn’t really say love. There were a lot of problems here, that, while can easily be swept under the rug, stick out. The planting of plot devices like Coogan’s seven years sober and the mute and abused girl in class who just screams Silent Bob moment of clarity at the end, do harm to the otherwise fresh script. Everyone needs to use clichés at times, so I do forgive them, especially when they are surrounded by the comedy gold accompanying it. Hamlet 2 will stir the pots and possibly make you feel angry, but just remember it’s a satire. Nothing here is meant to harm—I would say it’s meant to inspire, but that would just be weird considering some of the jokes—instead it’s there to entertain. I for one was highly entertained.
Hamlet 2 8/10 | ★ ★ ★
© 2008, Courtesy of Focus Features.