Friday, September 5, 2008

Hamlet 2 (Rhoades)

‘Hamlet 2’ Will Make Shakespeare Roll Over

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

There’s the old saying, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” There also should be a corollary that says, “If you can’t act, direct.”

So in “Hamlet 2” – the silly comedy opening today at the Tropic Cinema – we have a very bad actor directing a very bad play based on Shakespeare’s classic about a melancholy Dane.
While this is more akin to a dumb Will Farrell movie than, say, Christopher Guest’s brilliant “Waiting for Guffman,” it’s still worth a viewing if you like low-brow comedies and don’t want to wait for the DVD.

Unfortunately, neither Will Farrell nor Christopher Guest is in “Hamlet 2.” Instead we have British-born Steve Coogan (“Tropic Thunder,” “Coffee and Cigarettes”) as a failed actor now working as a high-school drama teacher. Unfortunately, this character’s no better at putting on a play than he was at his earlier thespian pursuits.

His attempt to put on a musical version of “Hamlet” is the basis of the humor. But the idea of a politically incorrect musical was better handled by Mel Brooks in “The Producers,” a comedy that the diminutive director originally wanted to title “Springtime for Hitler.”

Steve Coogan admits he was a bit nervous about the story of this inept drama teacher. “When I saw in the script this song ‘Rock Me Sexy Jesus,’ I was nervous that people might take it in the wrong spirit and be offended by it. I do think that any comedy that is interesting has got to take some risks … There is some edgy comedy, but it’s not a cynical film.”

Coogan seems fond of his character, Dana Marschz. “He’s trying to do his best. However misguided he is, he is earnest and trying to do something for the greater good – save his drama department. That’s why people watching the movie have responded to him. Dana is slightly theatrical and neurotic; he’s overly demonstrative with his emotions and very effusive with his feelings. This is part of why he has failed as an actor. He’s channeled everything into teaching students his love of the craft. What fuels a lot of the humor is that he’s obviously not very good at it. But he’s someone who genuinely believes in what he says, and there’s nothing Machiavellian about him; he’s open and honest.”

Oscar-nominee Elisabeth Shue (“Leaving Las Vegas”) is delightfully self-deprecating while playing a successful Hollywood star – herself! “I think she found it slightly cathartic to mock her image and the baggage she has from her past work,” grins Coogan.

And Catherine Keener (“40 Year Old Virgin”) is always great. “The dinner scene with her in ‘Hamlet 2’ raised the quality of my game,” says Coogan “She’s so committed and truthful, and tries different things, so you’re really kept on your toes. It was like playing tennis with someone who changed the technique, so you’d have to constantly be alert.”

Born in Manchester, England, Coogan had to perfect an American accent for this story set in Tucson, Arizona. “I experimented with different voices for Dana,” he says. “In a comedy movie, you have to know what the rhythm of the speech is going to be. I had to make sure that I got the American accent right; I worked with a coach. During shooting, when I would hit a vowel incorrectly, I’d think ‘I’m an English impostor!’”

So it’s a flimsy story and a trivial movie. But you’ll laugh. “On some levels, ‘Hamlet 2’ is a parody of inspirational-teacher movies, ‘Goodbye, Mr. Chips’ and ‘Dead Poets Society’ and ‘Dangerous Minds,’” observes Coogan. “Dana is pretty idiotic at times, but he does what he says he’s going to do – ultimately, inspire his students.”

What kind of preparation did Steve Coogan do for this movie? “I didn’t read Hamlet,” he says. [from Solares Hill]

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