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Film Review: Hamlet 2

Hamlet 2 (2008; Directed by Andrew Fleming)

A vicious parodic takedown of soppy inspirational teacher dramas, of  stupidly grand Broadway musical theatre convention, and of Tucson, Arizona, Andrew Fleming’s Hamlet 2 can be patchy and jerkily-paced but boasts its share of huge laughs as well.

Wow, '"Glee" has really let itself go lately, hasn't it?

Most notably, Hamlet 2 is perhaps the first American film that has come even close to taking full advantage of Steve Coogan’s unique comic gifts, casting him as a failed-actor-turned-high-school-drama-teacher who masterminds a demented theatrical spectacle of surrealistic proportions. It’s certainly the first film of any kind to feature, among other ridiculous things, a teenage theatre critic quoting Roland Barthes in school newspaper reviews, a Hamlet-Laertes lightsaber duel, and a climactic, show-stopping musical number entitled “Rock Me, Sexy Jesus”. We also get a fully-engaged Catherine Keener, whose funniest scene of alcohol-asssisted snappiness makes you forget how defanged she was in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, as well as Elisabeth Shue, who is totally game to make fun of her stalled acting career.

The movie’s humour is biting and anarchic in its satirical outlook. Fleming’s co-writer Pam Brady worked on the South Park movie as well as Team America: World Police, and the similarities between those all-offending American satires and this one definitely show through, warts and all. Sometimes it’s a bit too biting and anarchic, however, and spins wildly out of control, shedding comic integrity as it corkscrews. This is especially the case whenever Amy Poehler gets screen time as an aggressive, venom-spitting ACLU lawyer, and when the tidal wave of jokes about Latino stereotypes recedes, leaving, well, Latino stereotypes.

But like the audience at the premiere performance of the titular play, we are encouraged to have differing reactions. That’s art, and that’s comedy: if everyone who experienced it agreed exactly on what it was, then it wouldn’t be either. You can’t entirely fault a film with the courage of its own convictions, even if its most dearly-held conviction is the mockery of those with convictions. Hamlet 2 sends up the very ground it stands on, so it shouldn’t be so surprising that its tread becomes a little unsteady.

Categories: Film, Reviews
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