Hamlet 2 is the perfect movie to rent just before you settle into holiday oblivion. Rent/buy it and then swathe it, only to bring it out on Christmas day, the very moment after you have played your favorite board game and just before someone suggests you play RISK. A movie like Hamlet 2 only comes around so often, and this is a movie you’ll want to share. It’s got the man-down theme from It’s a Wonderful Life, the surprise happy ending from Miracle on 34th St. and the quirky cool one liners from Elf. Let’s just go ahead and call it an honorary Christmas movie. You can use that to convince your family to watch it with you on Christmas, if you like. I promise not to cry “copyright infringement.”
I must warn you, if you live in Tuscson, this movie might not hit all the right notes for you, as there are quite a few anti-Tucson jokes. Hamlet 2 follows the story of Dana Marschz, drama teacher extraordinaire. Dana stages reenactments of Oscar winning films. After some bad reviews, and cancelled school funding, Dana decides to write his own material, that he claims is about his relationship with his father. What he produces is a sequel to one of Shakespeare’s greatest plays. This idea is “so bad it starts to turn good again.” The basic components of the play are: Jesus, a time machine, and Hamlet, but the results are: ridiculously infectious tunes, a happy ending for the film, and just the right amount of rehabilitated troubled students.
Andrew Fleming’s script is filled with kooky one liners and hillarious situations. If you love Christopher Guest movies and find the Cohen brothers a little too pretentious, this movie might just hit the sweet spot. This film’s high moments are all about over-the-top situational humor, but all of the in-between moments thrive on humorous little details. Steve Coogan drops Fleming’s little word bombs flawlessly. Some tidbits: “It’s like my father got reincarnated into a freaking little drama critic,” “Beer, liquor, dope, coke, meth, chicks with dicks then jail,” “I knew it in my heartsoul,” and, on the original Tragedy of Hamlet: “It’s such a downer. If Hamlet had had just a little bit of therapy, he could have turned the whole thing around.” This movie is like if Napolean Dynamite got put through a Wes Anderson blender and had a better version of Will Farrell playing the lead.
Steve Coogan plays Dana with such a delicate comedic awkwardness that you will forget how much you hate drama teachers. Or, maybe that’s the point - because you hate drama teachers so much, you will understand why Dana’s character deserves your pathos. Coogan is so committed to this character, as he flails in absolute idiocy, that I am positive he did all of his own stunts and actually did ride those roller skates. Coogan is buoyed up by a passel of young bloods. The two annoyingly committed drama students (Skylar Astin and Phoebe Strole) and the numerous “ethnics” who invade their class (Joseph Julian Soria, Melonie Diaz, and Michael Esparza). The culture clash is hazardously offensive at first, as Dana flails and refers to such works of art as Dangerous Minds, but becomes successful once all the kids start working together for the good of the play.
This movie will rush through you. The editing of this film is nearly flawless, it is broken into Acts with names like “Hope is a Demon Bitch,” and “No Turning Back!!!!!” Just as you are starting to feel like you’ve had enough dramatic comedy from those damn kewpie high schoolers, the process is over and it’s time for the play. The movie ends with Dana’s first production of his wildly offensive play, offering up beautiful themes such as “raped in the face” and “sexy Jesus,” but is really about something more than just the sum of its parts. You’ll know what that is when you hear the Gay Man’s Chorus of Albuquerque singing Elton John’s “Someone Saved My Life Tonight.” This moment in the film is transcendent. This film is magical, just as any good Christmas movie should be. In 92 minutes, it will tickle your brain, warm your heart and leave you with a wildly inappropriate song stuck in your head. Just don’t be caught singing “Rock Me Sexy Jesus,” under your breath in church.
You just might want to stick around for the special features of this DVD. They are surprisingly thorough, seeing as how the film was independently financed. There is one deleted scene, two making-of docs, two fun featurettes and an audio commentary from co-writers Andrew Fleming and Pam Brady. The deleted scene is David Arquette’s biggest in the film. It’s a shame that it had to be cut, but I’m glad they included it on the DVD. The scene is completely polished and fits right in with the mood of the film.
The making of doc is split into two parts, I think mainly so that they could make two number two jokes: “Duty Calls,” and “Part Deaux.” We get some interviews with cast members, the director and Pam Brady. Brady is the one that gives us this insight into the film: “The stuff that we thought was just going to be like a super joke ended up feeling meaningful and deep. We were really surprised by that.” It’s fun to watch the cast and crew fawn over Steve Coogan. Diaz claims “he kindave paralyzes my personality because he’s so cool.” They also love Keener, but who doesn’t. The docs are well edited and keep in stride with the fun spirit of the film.
One featurette you might not expect on this DVD is a side by side comparison of Erin Brockovich and Dana’s school production of the same title. It is a little bit of fun from the editing room. The second featurette is called “Sing Along with Hamlet 2” and offers, just as it sounds, sing-a-long versions of “Raped in the Face” and “Rock Me Sexy Jesus.” It is crazy fun to watch the disembodied head of Steve Coogan bounce along to the lyrics. This highlighting of the words helps you realize just how hilarious the lyrics are. Also, it’s fun to sing along…. “all night looonng.”
The Audio commentary is pretty par for the course. It would have been about 100 times better if they could have gotten Coogan to be on the audio commentary, but as is they just had the Director/writer Andrew Fleming and Pam Brady. Fleming is shut down and weird the entire time, rousing himself for tiny details about the movie. Brady is charming and effulgently chatty throughout. The audio commentary helped me to appreciate Coogan’s performace even more, as they brought to my attention that he had to laugh and cry at the same time in numerous places. The audio commentary also taught me that it is not Coogan’s twig and berries that got blurred out in the Karate scene, but actually George Bush’s face that got CGI’d onto Coogan’s crotch. Try pausing it and it doesn’t work, but I believe that it is there. Fleming does provide one nugget of wisdom about Elton John: “He’s got the world on speed dial.” It’s so true. All in all, the commentary is worth listening to, and its clear that it wasn’t done during the editing process, as they get to talk a little bit about Sundance in it. But, after combining the commentary with the rest of the special features, I am completely satisfied by the contents of this DVD.