Movie Review: "Hamlet 2" (Electric Boogaloo)

08/28/2008 By Shawn Burns

Because I don’t know what else to write about today, I’m giving you a movie review. Do you watch movies? I watch too many movies.


I’ve seen a couple of great comedies in the last month or so: Tropic Thunder and Pineapple Express were both well-worth the price of admission.

I was in the mood for a little zane (not a reference to an interest in a tryst with a short dude named Zane), and Hamlet 2 opened yesterday and I was convinced by the trailer blurbs that it was a laugh riot.

I laughed right out loud during this film, on several occasions. Steve Coogan played his character, a drama teacher and washed-up Hollywood R-list actor, with the same kind of loveable obliviousness, enthusiasm, and self-centered-ness that Steve Carell brings to Michael Scott. His drama department is going to be shut down, and in classic high school movie/let’s save the rec center fashion he pens his own play for his collection of misfit students to put on. The play is a redemption story in which Hamlet travels back in time to correct his mistakes, and he is helped along the way by the time-traveling swimmer-bod model Jesus. It offends both the literate parents of the students in the class, and the religious zealots of the town.

Amy Poehler, as an ACLU representative fighting to keep Coogan’s play from being shut down by the school board, is perfectly self-important and perpetually prepared to be threatened by "the man".

And Catherine Keener is excellent as Coogan’s alcoholic wife, desperate to be pregnant or drunk just so long as it’s different.

But I ultimately went to see this movie because of the promise of zane and irreverent humour (the main musical number of the high school play Coogan’s students put on is "Rock Me Sexy Jesus"). And while there were occasional wacky moments there were too many opportunities to just pause and take a breath.

It had all of the comedic beats of a dramedy, but without the drama filling in the spaces. These little peaks of whimsical, unexpected humour seemed to be just that: unexpected. Because after a couple of minutes of relative flatness those funny moments caught me by surprise.

It’s weird to write that out, because I really can’t fault Coogan or his colleagues: their performances were seamless. And the script was clever enough, I think, to stand on its own two ridiculous feet. But the intelligence and subversiveness of the script somehow wasn’t conveyed. Not even with Coogan hamming it up in what I thought was a very appropriate way, and Elizabeth Shue (playing herself, but a version of herself that left Hollywood to become a nurse) playing the Abbot to Coogan’s Costello.

I did laugh quite a bit. But not nearly as often as I should have for a movie with a premise as ridiculous as this one. And there weren’t as many "oooh" moments of uncomfortable snickering as I thought there would be. And the play itself, the most dense concentration of those kinds of awkward laughter moments, takes up very little screen time overall. Most of the movie is not about Hamlet 2. It is a flat farce inspired by the great "inspirational teacher/community center director" films of the 80s and 90s.

I don’t necessarily want my money back. But I feel as though I didn’t spend it on something I chose myself. I feel like someone pulled a twenty out of my wallet without me knowing, gave it to some starving artist whose work wasn’t really that compelling, and then told me about it later. And just as I wouldn’t try to get my twenty back from the guy eating ramen with his paint-stained fingers, so too I’m not going to try to get my money back from the producers. But I’m not going to feel good about it.