Film Review: Hamlet 2

Jesus Christ! Interpret that literally or as an interjection.

It’s a perfect dialectic: since the man himself is so popular in American culture, so too is making fun of him (or at least what people do with him these days).

I’m a big fan of what a friend of mine calls “sacrelicious” humor. Thus, I can tell the good from the bad. Life of Brian comes to mind when I think of the good. Hamlet 2 — as its self-proclaimed sequel status would suggest — is an imposter that wants you think that just because it has Jesus in it, it’s daring and taboo.

And it also wants you to think that it’s commentary on the realities of making art, just because it has a slightly genius, mostly shit-for-brains no-talent teaching drama at a high school in Nothingtown, U.S.A. (whoops…I meant Tucson). Waiting for Guffman did this a lot better, mostly because the humor arose naturally out of the characters and the situations. Hamlet 2 relies on an awkward mix of slipshod physical comedy and painfully predictable jokes about race, gender, and disabilities.

The story tries to dupe you into thinking it’s progressive by revealing that a Hispanic student in Coogan’s class was accepted to Brown and comes from a well-educated family, but that move comes across as vapid doubletalk in the face of the class’s parade of ethnic stereotypes. Also, what does it say that the writers (and likely the audience) find it genuinely amusing that a shy deaf girl keeps getting physically injured at the behest of the script’s lame attempts at getting an easy laugh?

As a fan of hearing and telling extremely un-PC jokes, I run the risk of sounding like a hypocrite here. But I think I can defend myself. Joking about something and seeing it acted out are two different things. And the intent is also important — when done right, an un-PC joke either mocks the sanctimonious nature of PC-ism or says something so blatantly offensive (knowing that it is offensive) that the willingness to say it becomes the joke.

When I saw the film use a deaf girl as a prop for physical comedy (knocking her in the head with large objects and slamming her into a wall), I felt there was something juvenile and indiscriminate about it. I could see the writers sitting around saying “Hey, let’s stick a deaf girl in here and do stuff to her. That would be REALLY pushing the envelope. And it’d be so funny…huh huh…huh huh.” Fine, but they forgot to do one small thing: make it genuinely funny.

Steve Coogan is sporadically entertaining, although all he really does is bumble around the frame making silly faces and acting like a lunatic. There’s not much depth here in terms of comedic vitality. Catherine Keener and David Arquette are completely wasted (in more ways than one) in throwaway roles that function only as devices to show the crappiness of the main character’s existence.

By far the most entertaining part of the film is the last thirty minutes, where we finally see the musical itself. Strangely, we never see any rehearsals leading up to it, and the effects and production values look quite impressive for any high school performance, much less one that is supposedly running on a zero budget without the school’s financial assistance. But hey, if it serves the script…

And to be honest, the “edgy” stuff in the last thirty minutes is nothing that edgy or new. There’s a mildly entertaining number about bad stuff being done to one’s face, and of course the most touted song “Rock Me, Sexy Jesus”. It’s cute, but completely unoriginal.

Amy Poehler gives the film an ever-so-brief lift as an ACLU lawyer who defends the play while knowing next to nothing about it, other than the fact that it’s being persecuted. But she too is wasted when she’s given predictable jokes about lawyers (especially Jewish ones).

All in all, Hamlet 2 is a naive and unfocused attempt at effective satire. But more importantly, it’s never really that funny.


1 comment so far

  1. Anne on

    Yeah, seeing this film made me feel as though I had been raped in the face. Poor Elisabeth Shue.

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