Monday, August 25, 2008

Rock me SEXY JESUS!!

Focus Features' Hamlet 2
Hamlet 2 stars Steve Coogan as Dana Marschz; the last name is pronounced…oh, any attempt is close enough, really. Dana is a failed actor-turned-high-school drama teacher. Shortchanged in the talent department, Dana still harbors ambitions and passions. At work, that is; his personal life, with his dissatisfied wife Brie (Catherine Keener) and their boarder Gary (David Arquette), leaves much to be desired. At Tucson, AZ’s West Mesa High School, Dana sees himself as an inspirational teacher. But his adaptations of popular films, as performed by his top students Rand and Epiphany (Skylar Astin and Phoebe Strole), are not resonating. When his latest – re-creating “Erin Brockovich” – is dismissed by the 9th grade drama critic and his department is targeted for closure, Dana must reach deep into himself for creativity. After much perspiration, he conceives a sequel to Shakespeare’s Hamlet – a musical-theater extravaganza that will disdain both political correctness and dramatic credibility. Rallying and rousing his class, Dana casts a wider net by recruiting transfer students like Ivonne (Melonie Diaz) for key roles. With rehearsals underway, objections from school officials and the community are soon raised, but Dana will not be denied his freedom of artistic expression. After all, “to thine own self be true.” Dana gets unexpected support from ACLU attorney Cricket Feldstein (Amy Poehler) and his favorite actress, Elisabeth Shue (Academy Award nominee Elisabeth Shue as herself). Above all else, he fervently believes that his opus must be staged, and nothing can break his optimistic spirit.

Many summers produce a late-season surprise at the movies, a sleeper hit that comes out of nowhere. This year it is - or ought to be- "Hamlet 2, " a laugh-out-loud comedy that is a welcome antidote of Hollywood's idea of what's funny, which joins the ranks of this years earlier comedies "Tropic Thunder" and "Pineapple Express". The story focuses the journey of failed actor Dana Marschz (Steve Coogan, who also appeared in "Tropic Thunder"). he's ended up as a drama teacher at an Arizona high school, doing totally unnecessary stage versions of popular film hits. Things are going from bad to worse for him. His drama club has been flooded with kids with no interest in theater but whose extracurricular clubs have been cancelled. His wife (Catherine Keener) seems to have a live-in boyfriend (David Arquette). His worst critic is a pint-size pre-teen who regularly skewers his productions for his school block. Dana, in a fit of creative desperation, creates an original musical sequel to Shakespeare's "Hamlet, " which he believes will raise the money needed to save his job. When it's pointed out that all the principal characters are dead at the end of Shakespeare's play, Dana reveals his great plot device - a time machine. By the time we get to the show itself, complete with a rockin' Jesus, sexually suggestive songs, and more stage special effects than any school should have access to, you can only hang on for the ride. "Hamlet 2" features broken and quirky characters who border on the cartoonish, yet retain a core humanity with which we can identify. When Dana meets a nurse at the fertility clinic who looks like Elisabeth Shue, the joke isn't simply that it really is Shue, playing herself. It's why she's take this job, and what happens to her over the course of the story. Coogan makes Dana a ridiculous figure, but in th end he wants us to be won over by this loser who simply won't stay beaten down. His enthusiasm for his patently ridiculous show becomes infectious. Dana becomes merely the most absurd of lovable losers we find ourselves cheering on. "Hamlet 2" is not going to be for every taste, but it is easily one of the funniest movies to be released this year. A definite 5 on my "Go See" scale.

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