Hamlet 2

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Sundance Film Festival

PARK CITY -- If the Nuart started doing weekend midnight showings again where everyone dressed up in costumes, "Hamlet 2" would be a fitting selection. An erratic, freewheeling satire of Middle American mores, it should thrive as a festival curio, appealing to anti-establishment sensibilities.

In like vein, marketers will face the challenge of inducing the word-snobs of the smart set to slum with slapstick entertainment. Still, there's enough rowdy and off-the-wall humor in "Hamlet 2" to perform princely at the boxoffice, particularly in college-city venues.

A slam-bang patchwork of more inspired comedies such as "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective" and "Borat," "Hamlet 2" centers on Dana Marschz (Steve Coogan), who attempts to teach drama in a Tuscon high school. With delusions that he is soaring to great heights like Icarus, this doofus presents high school plays based on his favorite movies, including "Dead Poets Society" and "Mr. Holland's Opus," which appeal to his inflated ego but leave his charges flat. His productions are major fiascos, rightfully skewered by a ninth-grade drama critic.

In one of the movie's many funny lines, Marschz admits that his life is like a parody of tragedy: He's infertile, his wife is having an affair with their roommate, he has father issues, and he's a recovering alcoholic. Not to mention, he's talentless.

Dramatically, "Hamlet 2" is a twist on the formula of let's-put-on-a-show, with the twist being that no one wants the show, least of all the administration, which has chopped the school's art funds. Even arts-funding advocates would notice that Marschz's grandiose piffles are a major waste. As such, the film unwittingly makes a case for slashing funds for the arts. Lo, and unfortunately we behold, Marschz does smite the school board Philistines (not exactly a difficult target) with a last-ditch rally and a from-the-rafters opus.

Unlike Ace Ventura, Inspector Clouseau or other lovable loonies, Marschz is merely a knucklehead errant. He's a creep, but he's nicely endeared to us by Coogan's funny, fey performance. Among the players, Elisabeth Shue delivers a winning rendition of herself; her appearance as a Tucson nurse who has rejected her show business career is one of the film's best absurdities. Similarly, Amy Poehler is hilarious as a WASP-y, anti-Semitic ACLU lawyer.

Attaining somewhat of a bad parody of a comedy, screenwriters Andrew Fleming and Pam Brady have slapped together a string of gags in a hit-and-miss dither. Some of it is quite brainy. There's an appealing anarchic tone and anti-authority bent as well. There also are zany surrealistic moments and a devilish eye for incongruity, especially a rousing rendition of Elton John's "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" as belted out by the Tucson Gay Chorus for the boondocks high school audience.

Fittingly, director Fleming blasts the production along, an indication of a keen sense of comic pacing, which performs double duty in masking some of the more dimwitted moments.

Technically, "Hamlet 2" is distinguished by production designer Tony Fanning's sendup of Southwest suburbia.

HAMLET 2
Focus Features
L+E Pictures
Credits:
Director: Andrew Fleming
Screenwriters: Andrew Fleming, Pam Brady
Producers: Eric Eisner, Leonid Rozhetskin, Aaron Ryder
Executive producers: Albert Berger, Ron Yerxa, Michael Flynn
Director of photography: Alexander Gruszynski
Editor: Jeff Freeman
Production designer: Tony Fanning
Music: Ralph Sall
Cast:
Dana Marschz: Steve Coogan
Brie Marschz: Catherine Keener
Herself: Elisabeth Shue
Cricket Feldstein: Amy Poehler
Gary: David Arquette
Principal Rocker: Marshall Bell
Octavio: Joseph Julian Soria
Rand Posin: Skylar Astin
Running time -- 90 minutes
No MPAA rating
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