Doodad Kind of Town

Quick Take: "Hamlet 2"
August 31, 2008, 8:10 pm
Filed under: Musicals

I enjoyed myself immensely at “Hamlet 2,” although in hindsight, I’ll admit it felt like a movie I’d seen before.

Christopher Guest and his ensemble of regulars more than covered the comic territory of amateur theatre in 1996’s “Waiting for Guffman.” Twelve years later, “Hamlet 2” offers nothing original in the way of lampooning the passionately committed, yet wildly untalented, people who sometimes devote themselves to it. What it lacks in originality it almost makes up for in the sheer comic gusto of Steve Coogan’s performance.

Coogan throws himself into the role of Dana Marcshz, a failed-actor-turned-high-school drama-teacher, with shameless abandon. Marschz, like Guest’s Corky St. Clair before him, is an easy target for laughs, a obvious loser who is blissfully oblivious to both his lack of talent and the impending collapse of his marriage. (As his long-suffering wife, Catherine Keener has a discordant surliness that throws the movie off-balance whenever she appears.) He rollerblades to work, draws inspiration for his teaching methods from films like “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” and ultimately seeks to save the school’s drama program by staging a rock musical sequel to Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy. (It adds Jesus Christ in a time machine to the original lineup of characters.) Coogan makes something daft and delightful out of the role, adding some nice, tossed-off bits of physical comedy (Dana never quite gets the hang of those rollerblades) and bringing a ridiculous conviction to lines like “Mango iced tea is my kryptonite!” And ultimately, he makes the character sympathetic. You actually end up cheering for his strange little show to become a hit.

The big production number in “Hamlet 2” is a bouncy little show tune called “Rock Me Sexy Jesus” (which sounds a bit like the title number from “Little Shop of Horrors”); it’ll be stuck in your head when you leave the theater. But, for me, the show’s opening number – “Raped in the Face” – is the showstopper. Its staging – highlighted by Coogan’s appearance in the number, inexplicably, as Albert Einstein – is the most dead-on skewering of contemporary musical theatre since Richard Curtis imagined “Elephant Man” as a musical in 1989’s “The Tall Guy.”


2 Comments so far
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Pat, I love Steve Coogan, and he’s probably the only reason I’ll see this. I’m glad you pointed out the similarities between this and one of my favorite comedies, “Waiting for Guffman” I love it’s pathos mixed with humor, something that Guest and company seem to get right every time.

Comment by Rick Olson

Rick -You hit on exactly what I love about Christopher Guest’s ensemble films, and that is the layers within each of the characterizations. (I particularly love what Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara did with their characters in “A Mighty Wind.”) I chalk that up to the considerable talents of the performers. Improvisation is a lot harder than it looks, and actors like O’Hara, Levy, Guest, Willard and the others are genius at it.”Hamlet 2″ is not on that level, however. Coogan is great, but he’s really the only one in the film who’s allowed to play a fully developed character.

Comment by Pat

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