Hamlet 2 also treads familiar territory, but it’ll only remind you of how the material has been more successfully executed before. One trailer boasts that its musical-within-a-movie is “so offensive, so profane, so stupid,” which is, well, so wrong. Never mind that Christopher Guest used a similar storyline—bad director puts on worse play—in the far wittier Waiting for Guffman. More egregious is that this came from co-writer Pam Brady, who wrote both the snort-inducing South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut and the lesser but still worthy Team America: World Police.
Maybe writer-director Andrew Fleming, best known for 1999’s Dick, held her back. Regardless, Hamlet 2’s laughs and inventiveness are as spotty as the ability of roller-skating drama teacher Dana Marschz (Steve Coogan) to recognize brilliance. Dana’s Arizona high school is canceling its theater program, and he—an admittedly failed actor—is determined to come up with a work dazzling enough to save it. He considers a musical adaptation of The Lake House but then settles on an even lower circle of hell: a sequel to Hamlet. “The Deuce,” he nicknames it. “Doesn’t everyone die at the end of the first one?” Dana’s wife (Catherine Keener) asks. “I’ve got a device,” he responds. That would be a time machine, which, among other things, allows Hamlet to hang with Jesus Christ.
One aspect of Hamlet 2 (the movie) does live up to Brady’s previous accomplishments: The music is a knockout. “Rock Me Sexy Jesus” is as catchy as anything in Bye Bye Birdie, and ballads such as “Rape Me in the Face” bring nearly as many giggles in a couple of minutes as the entire remainder of the film. It was also a smart move to have Coogan play Jesus—rocking Broadway choreography in long hair, a wife-beater, and jeans. He’s consistently the best part of the film, alternately giddy, delusional, and self-loathing as someone who reveres the dramatic arts but doesn’t necessarily have the same standards that other theater-lovers do. (Dana recruits, for example, the Tucson’s Gay Men’s Chorus to sing “Maniac” in the show.)
Dana’s mostly Latino class, which eventually has to meet in the gym—during volleyball practice—hardly registers, though there’s a funny bit in which Dana visits with the disapproving parents of his star, Octavio (Joseph Julian Soria). Dana expects that they object to their son’s participation because of “cultural narrow-mindedness” but finds they’re more sophisticated and literary than Dana could ever hope to be. Dana’s ignorance is the bulk of his charm, especially when he’s aware of it—“I’m such a dick!” he exclaims when he gets his skate caught in a crevice. And when he accidentally clocks a student with a garbage can and someone points out how stupid it was, he responds with a bright face, “It was stupid, but it was also theater!” One small tweak, and Hamlet 2 has a new tagline.