Quirky Comedy in ‘Hamlet 2’

8 09 2008

“Hamlet 2” 2008

Starring: Steve Coogan, Catherine Keener, Amy Poehler, Elisabeth Shue

Just to be clear, “Hamlet 2” has very little to do with the Shakespearean tragedy at all. It is a film about a band of high school misfits and their equally eccentric drama teacher, who bond while rehearsing a stage production that is loosely connected to the original Hamlet.

This film was bizarre but engaging, thanks in large part to the outrageous Steve Coogan, who played the talentless actor-turned-high-school teacher Dana Marschz (A name even Dana himself seems to have trouble pronouncing, which acts as another reminder that he has no business trying to conquer the entertainment industry. How can you make a name for yourself if people can’t even figure out how to say it?)

Dana is a guy so wrapped up in his imaginary artistic genius that he never notices the constant stream of eyes rolling at his expense.

“Hamlet 2” was also entertaining and often hilariously funny, which made up for the times it missed the mark. Some of the funnier scenes involve Dana and his nemesis Noah, a barely five-foot-tall theater critic for the school newspaper who at one point must excuse himself to go to recess in the middle of a verbal tongue-lashing from Dana, distraught over yet another bad review.

The teenagers who make up Dana’s drama class do not particularly stand out as individuals, with one exception. Octavio (who initially identifies himself as “Haywood,” as part of a smart-ass gag that I will not reveal here, but eventually results in Dana appearing especially ridiculous) is a young Latino man who Dana challenges to rise above his destitute childhood in the slums by directing his energy towards acting. When Octavio’s father refuses to allow him to participate in the production, we get one of the cleverest and most amusing surprises of the film.

Amy Poehler’s appearance as an over-zealous ACLU lawyer was a nice treat. Catherine Keener’s dry and perfectly-timed humor as Dana’s dissatisfied wife was the cherry on top. Her delivery is perfect, and we empathize as she trudges through the dead-end trek of sharing a life with such an eccentric and self-absorbed loser.

“Hamlet 2” is not a film I’d particularly like to see again, but it was an enjoyable 90 minute romp through that odd and quirky universe that exists only in the land of independent film.

♦♦½

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