Monday, January 12, 2009

Movie Log: Hamlet 2

Some movies -- and I say this with the deepest admiration and love -- are just nuts: full of things that shouldn't be funny, clearly set in worlds not our own, and full of people who don't really make sense. Hamlet 2 is one of them, and a wonderful, eccentric, bizarre spectacle it makes of itself.

Steve Coogan is Dana Marschz, a bad drama teacher in Tucson, AZ, which the movie thinks of as the worst place possible. Dana used to be a bad actor in commercials, but, like every man, he has found his correct level. As the movie opens, his once tiny class -- the same two students take it every year, but no one else does -- has been overrun by Hispanic ethnic stereotypes, since the regular study hall has been abolished. So he tries to "reach out" to these kids -- badly, of course.

That would be the normal premise for a comedy like this, but Hamlet 2 has several more cliches to throw in: the budget is slashed, and the drama program will be ended. The principal hates Dana. Dana's wife leaves him. And Dana finally decides to finish his magnum opus, a musical in which Jesus and his time machine save Hamlet from death and turn that gloomy play into something much happier.

The movie, of course, builds up to the premiere of the play Hamlet 2, as Dana and the cast -- his students, who now believe in him fairly strongly -- battle through various mishaps and problems. And the last half-hour of this ninety-minute movie takes place during that play.

The play Hamlet 2 is comic genius -- it's an utterly unnecessary sequel to one of the masterpieces of Western culture, but that's only for starters. It's also blasphemous, silly, filled with bizarre unnecessary flourishes, clumsily written, and primarily a vehicle for Dana to work through his conflicted feelings for his own father. And, inevitably, it's a musical -- since "it's a musical!" has been cultural shorthand for "garbage masquerading as treacle" for at least two comedic generations now.

And yet. Hamlet 2, the play in the movie, is undeniably bad. But it's also undeniably a powerful piece of theatre, from what we see of it -- hokey and silly, to be sure, but the kind of thing that moved audiences to tears when it hits right.

Hamlet 2, the movie, essentially says up front "I'm going to show you something really funny," then builds up that joke for an hour. But what makes the movie is that joke delivers.

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