Early on in the comedy “Hamlet 2,” which by the way has very little to do with Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” we learn where it is that dreams go to die. Tucson, Arizona.
This is the story of Dana Marschz (Steve Coogan) who had once dreamed of becoming a great actor, but after a pathetic career of infomercials, a bit part on an episode of “Xena: Warrior Princess,” and a commercial for an STD medication, he gave up that dream to teach high school drama in Tucson. No offense to the fine citizens of Tucson or other 3rd rate cities, but New York and LA, it ain’t.
In all the school, there are really only two students (Skylar Astin and Phoebe Strole) who seem to have slightest bit of talent or desire to act, though one’s a racist and the other is in self-denial about his homosexuality. But when the School Board cuts funding for almost all other arts programs, a whole slew of uninterested and rebellious students (including Melonie Diaz, Joseph Julian Soria, Arnie Pantoja, Michael Esparza, and Natalie Amenula) land in Dana’s acting class. Can you say “inspirational teacher movie”? Dana does. He’s seen many and tries to imitate them.
He talks about a lot of other movies too, including several which star his favorite actress, Elizabeth Shue. And Dana’s blown away when he discovers that Elizabeth Shue (playing herself) has given up acting to become a nurse, right there in Tucson. He’d do anything to get her to talk to his drama class.
With all the budget cuts, I bet you can guess which department is threatened next. What’s Dana plan to save the theatre program? Write and produce a powerful play unleashing all his inner demons, particularly unresolved issues with his father. This takes the form of a musical sequel to “Hamlet.” Yes, the play’s the thing which will do the saving.
But since all of the major characters of “Hamlet” are dead at the end, how can Dana bring them back to work through their issues? By building a time-machine, of course, to save them from their deaths. And as long as Hamlet is traveling through time, he might as well go further back, save Jesus before his crucifixion, and then bring him to the present where he becomes a rock star. This leads to lines such as, “I really better get back to 33AD. If my Dad finds out what I’ve been up to, he’s going to crucify me.”
When word of this sacrilegious and sexually-suggestive play gets out to the community, the school’s principle (Marshall Bell) shuts down the production and even evicts Dana from the school grounds. Things continue to go worse for Dana when his wife (Catherine Keener) leaves him for a guy she supposedly can’t stand (David Arquette). It’s enough to make an alcoholic fall off the wagon, which Dana does. How many more slings and arrows of outrageous fortunes must Dana suffer?
The plot may be a bit predictable, but that’s not important; what matters is that the movie is full of some really funny jokes. For example, when an ACLU lawyer (Amy Poehler) tells Dana they will sue for his first-amendments rights, and he thanks her because it’s really such a great and important play, she responds, “Oh, that’s irrelevant.” I also loved the tiny high school newspaper theatre critic (Shea Pepe) who ripped Dana’s previous plays to shreds but now is giving him notes which Dana is more than happy to take.
“Hamlet 2” isn’t as funny or profound as other “Hamlet” knock-offs like “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” or “Fortinbras” (full disclosure: I haven’t actually seen “Fortinbras” but it has a fantastic reputation), but it’s certainly funny enough and amusing. In many ways, it’s the opposite of “Hamlet” in that it undoes the tragedy, inspires, charms, and gives new birth to old dreams.