Hamlet 2Directed by Andrew FlemingStarring Steve Coogan, Catherine Keener, Joseph Julian Soria, Melonie DiazRated R*7*
Goes well with: Waiting for Guffman, Rushmore, Dangerous Minds
There's something rotten in the state of Arizona, and Steve Coogan knows what it is.
“The only thing you need to know is that Hamlet is a play written by Shakespeare that is revered, and that making a sequel to it is a bad idea,” the British comic says. “If you can get your head around that, you'll enjoy the movie. If that means nothing to you, it's probably not for you.”
But creating a sequel to Hamlet is entirely the point of Hamlet 2. Coogan, who was introduced to American audiences by playing legendary record exec Tony Wilson in 24 Hour Party People, here plays Dana Marschz, an actor whose failed career has led him to try to teach and direct theater at a Tucson high school. Dana's problems don't come from his exuberance, but from his ineptness. He has just two enthusiastic students (Skyler Astin and Phoebe Strole), and his stage productions of Hollywood films like Erin Brockovich are savaged by the freshman drama critic at the school paper.
Things can't get much worse. Oh, wait—they can. Asbestos problems close several classrooms, flooding drama with the tough Latino kids who usually take shop. Dana's wife (Catherine Keener) hates him and may be having an affair with their boarder (David Arquette). And, worst of all, the school board has decided to cancel drama. So what's a terrible actor with no social graces and serious daddy issues to do? That's right—put on a show. One that no one wants to see.
“Not everyone who went and saw The Dark Knight is going to come and see this film,” Coogan tells CityBeat. “It's not for all those people. But it's for some of those people, who want to see something a bit different.”
And Hamlet 2 is certainly different—and hysterically offensive. Coogan is utterly impossible to embarrass—emphasis on the “bare ass” part of that word, playing a socially awkward, roller-skating idiot watching his already faded dreams fall completely apart.
“Sometimes you have thoughts, as we all do, that we know aren't so healthy,” Coogan says. “Normal human beings, rational people, edit those thoughts so that they don't offend people. But I love performing those characters, because it's quite liberating being able to say the sorts of things you ought not to say. It's cathartic. There's a strange, perverse pleasure when you meet real people who behave in a way that's simply not acceptable. When I encounter someone who is rude for no apparent reason, part of me is obviously offended and appalled, but part of me is amused, and curious, and interested. Their one mitigating factor is they don't quite know what an idiot they're being.”
That's why we pull for Dana, even if he's playing Jesus Christ in a musical sequel to Hamlet. And also because, when we finally get to the play—enabled by perky ACLU lawyer Amy Poehler—there's actually something there, something about art and censorship and maybe even about Shakespeare, even if Dana can't really see it. Sure, he thinks Hamlet was a downer because everybody dies, so he invents a time machine that allows the sweet prince to go back and make things right, but there's something interesting about Hamlet saving the lives of his loved ones. That said, it's all done in the context of musical numbers such as “Raped in the Face” and the seriously awesome “Rock Me Sexy Jesus.”
Yes, the only nudity is Coogan's bottom, but H2 earns its R-rating.
The movie is the third film the British actor has appeared in this summer and his first lead in an American film. “I'm kind of blowing up at the moment,” he jokes. “I mean, literally, in Tropic Thunder, of course. But let's not overstate it. I'm having a little moment, which is nice.”