Hamlet 2 Stoopid!

Hamlet 2 offers a terrifically funny title and an interesting enough plot: A failed actor finds himself teaching drama to stereotypically disinterested students in a Tucson, Arizona high school.  When faced with the school board’s decision to cut the drama program, the teacher decides to write an original piece of theatre, a sequel to Hamlet, named, appropriately, Hamlet 2, to be put on as a fundraiser.  Foibles and pitfalls a-many are encountered along the way, but the film ends with the teacher and his student cast putting on their highly controversial play (musical, really) to the consternation of some, the delight of a few, and the bewilderment of all.  The makings of a delightfully quirky, irreverent indie, no?  NO!  Hamlet 2 is awful.  Just plain awful.  Nothing is less funny than that which is supposed to be funny being not funny.  And that is precisely what this film is: not funny.  The jokes come so far apart in this sleeper that one almost forgets the events leading up to the punch line. 

A general sense of tepidity permeates everything in the film.  The story’s characters are flat all around, and are not aided in the slightest by bored, insignificant acting.  The troupe of high school players is full of stereotypes—the gay teacher’s pet drama (literally) queen, the religious goody-goody, the disinterested hoods, the gum-smacking chicas, the silent girl, the druggie, etc.  This is all fine and dandy, but nothing is made of these stereotypes, cynical or meaningful, they are simply there, lacking depth and gravity.  Our protagonist, played by Steve Coogan, is pretty good at physical comedy, but falling down time and again will only get you so far.  His wife and roommate are one-dimensional glitches in the storyline, popping up just enough to refresh our memories as to who they are and where they belong, but falling short of any further meaningful development. 

Tongue-in-cheek silliness, slapstick, absurdity, and depravity are all fine devices, some of my favorite really, but the film fails to capture any of these in their fullness, leaving us, well, yawning and not laughing.  What could have been really dark, cynical black comedy is instead watered down for the masses and left floating on the surface.  Hamlet 2 bills itself as a parody of a tragedy.  The problem is that nothing is really tragic enough to make parody necessary or even reasonable.  Attempts at irreverence and offense come off equally tame and lame, which is quite surprising given that one of the film’s writers has writing and production credits on many South Park episodes.  I’m sure that some of the most conservative religious zealots out there might find their hearts burning at the portrayal, in the play-within-the-film, of Jesus as a sexy, fit, time-travelling dude’s dude, but then again, probably not.  In fact, they probably aren’t even watching the film.  I want something that might offend me, thank you, regardless of how difficult that might be.  It’s the thought that counts!

About that Jesus comment.  The plot of our protagonist’s play, Hamlet 2, has Hamlet hopping aboard a time machine at the end of Bill Shakespeare’s original in order to travel back through time to stop Gertrude from drinking the poison that kills her.  In his travels, he meets Jesus, who joins in the time-tripping, and the two are able to confront and reconcile with their fathers.  And, he makes it back in time to save Gertrude.  All of this is set to ridiculously funny musical numbers like “Rock Me Sexy Jesus” and “Raped In the Face,” stealing tunes and imagery from the likes of Elton John, Star Wars, and Grease.  The ten minutes or so of this part of the film are incredibly funny, but, sadly, not worth the wait.  I would much rather have seen a feature-length film of this sub-plot, a la the likes of such Troma classics as Class of Nuke ‘Em High and Tromeo and Juliet.

Amidst these shenanigans, we’re reminded of our earlier let-downs.  The tough guy school official who attempts to shut down the play is seen watching with a sense of realization and self-discovery as Hamlet and Jesus confront their respective fathers and the pain caused by their strained relationships.  We know, then, that this guy must have some unresolved issues with his own father, which helps to explain his hardened temperament.  The film feels the need to spell this out for us, though, when later the character says, “I was abused as a child.  I have issues with my father too,” or some such dreck.  The movie is full of qualifiers such as this, leading me to wonder if there is some definitive shift in what is found humorous by youngsters these days.  Did the writers have such a lack of faith in their audience that they felt the need for these explanations?  Is the act of calling attention to the joke funnier than the joke itself, as in the “That’s what she said…” phenomenon?

Perhaps it is simpler than that– ok, Walter, you didn’t like the movie, that’s that–  but I’m still suspicious of larger, more sinister, forces at work.  The death of irony, for instance, or fear of being offensive or vulgar (I haven’t seen Tropic Thunder, but when freakin’ Ben Stiller gets mud slung at him, something’s up, yo!).  I don’t know.  I’m a paranoid if I’m anything, and I’m straying into territory not easily covered in the remainder of this post, but the exposure to those ninety minutes of utterly vapid wasted time (ok, I did like the musical/play) ticked me off and got me to thinking.  Mainly I’m thinking I wish we hadn’t been with friends, ‘cause I would have walked out after about twenty minutes!  What a stinker!



One Response to “Hamlet 2 Stoopid!”

  1. Katie Says:

    that’s what she said.

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