Hamlet 2: The Sequel

“Hamlet 2.” Andrew Fleming, director. Fox Searchlight, 92 minutes. Special Jury Award, Sundance 2008.

How could there be a sequel to Hamlet? They all die in the end, right?

That’s part of the joke in “Hamlet 2,” an irreverent, profane, laugh-out-loud parody of the Earnest Inspirational Teacher film genre. Dana Marschz (Steve Coogan) is the epitome of the adage, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” Not even good enough to be a has-been, he’s a never-was actor with deep unresolved father issues and a handful of lousy television commercials to his credit. Now he teaches high school drama to a class of two, roller skates to school because he can’t afford a car, wears caftans and no underwear to improve his sperm count, takes in a boarder (David Arquette) to help pay the rent (you can guess where the sperm will come from) yet models himself as a teacher on par with “Dead Poets Society,” “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” and “Goodbye Mr. Chips.”

While he is nothing like any of the teachers in these iconic films, Marschz does manage to inspire, in a goofy, pretentious, godawful way. That’s largely because Steve Coogan will stop at nothing to demonstrate the shame and degradation of his character, even when it requires administering a roundhouse kick wearing the aforementioned caftan with no underwear. Coogan rises above parody because he plays the idiot Marschz with such complete honesty and utter lack of dignity.

When budget cuts require the high school administrators to cancel all of the arts & crafts and shop classes, Marschz’s class of two earnest young white actors (one girl, one gay) is suddenly invaded by 20 Latinos who otherwise would be in shop. Yes, the stereotypes are broad and irreverent, but because the film revels in its political incorrectness, it isn’t offensive. When further budget cuts threaten to end the drama program as well, Marschz realizes that he has one chance left to prove himself and save the program. He decides to write and produce his magnum opus, a musical sequel called “Hamlet 2.” He sets to work writing feverishly and exults to his wife, (Catherine Keener), when it is finished, “This is the hardest 47 billion hours of my life!”

While telling Mr. Marschz about the invasion of new students, his fresh-faced young wannabe actress (Phoebe Strolle) confesses, “In prayer circle I pray for racial understanding, but I still get anxious around ethnics!” Of course, the ethnics save the day and the play, smashing the stereotypes along the way, but not before providing hilarious moments in the movie.

One of the funniest continuing gags is the presence of actress Elisabeth Shue (“Leaving Las Vegas,” “Adventures in Babysitting”) playing herself as an actress who is now a nurse because acting was just too hard on the ego. What she misses most about acting? Kissing, she tells his drama class. “You don’t get to make out with your patients when you’re a nurse,” she laments.

This is the kind of film you need to see when you are in the mood for a silly, over-the-top, irreverent, profane romp with friends who are similarly ready for a good laugh. I hate to compare anything to “Napoleon Dynamite,” it has become so trite to do so, but with Marschz’s pageboy hair, buck teeth, roller skates, and deadpan sincerity, I couldn’t help thinking that Dana Marschz is what Napoleon would be when he grows up.

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