Thursday, August 21, 2008
Combine Shakespeare, a 50s style greaser Jesus, and a perverse take on High School Musical and you'll get an inkling of what Hamlet 2 is like. British comedian Steve Coogan (who's also in Tropic Thunder ) plays high school drama teacher Dana Marschz. With his drama department about to be cut, Marschz stages a politically incorrect musical sequel to Hamlet .
Brie: Hamlet 2? Doesn't everybody die at the end of the first one?
Dana: I have a device.
Brie: The time machine door opens revealing Hamlet, Gertrude, Polonius and Hilary Clinton appearing to have group sex...
The play's political incorrectness is staggering but Dana seems oblivious.
Dana: I think the play's going to be really good.
Steve Coogan: It satirizes clich es, and it satirizes the inspirational teacher movies but of course it comes full circle and becomes one itself at the end.
Steve Coogan praises writers Pam Brady (of South Park fame) and Eric D. Eisner for making smart comic choices.
Steve Coogan: Then what really sold it to me was that it wasn't cynical. Often smart and cynical go hand in hand. This was smart but it had real heart to it.
That heart lies in Dana's devotion to theater even though he's a horrible actor and an even worse playwright. But deep down he cares for the kids and for the power art has to improve their lives.
Dana: Theater has the power not only to transform but also the actor but also the audience do you believe that? It sounds sort of cuckoo bananas but I believe that with every fiber of my being.
Dana's a bit cuckoo bananas himself as he serves up a jaw dropping event that adds Jesus to Shakespeare's play about the melancholy Dane.
The Rock Me Sexy Jesus number in Hamlet 2 (Focus Features)
Student: What's going on here?
Dana: Jesus is sexy which leads us to the musical interlude Rock me sexy Jesus.
Song: "Rock me, rock me, rock me sexy Jesus..."
In this musical number, Dana plays a fifties rock and roll heartthrob incarnation of the son of god.
Steve Coogan: I was a little nervous about it because of course if you're going to do something like that you really have to head straight at it. You can't flinch. You have to really commit yourself to doing it otherwise you're going to look like an idiot in a non-comedy way. But if you are doing stuff that is bold and different there has to be a slight element of trepidation and discomfort. But I think I look pretty good as sexy Jesus.
Indeed he does and he's funny too. Of Dana's play filmmaker Andrew Fleming says he didn't want it to be bad, but it didn't want it to be good either.
Andrew Fleming: We wanted it to be bizarre and filled with bad ideas but have a kind of conviction to it that turns it into something better than you would expect, and that everybody is transformed in some way and that ultimately is actually what art is supposed to do even though it's offensive and strange and seems ridiculous but that it actually works.
Dana's play is so sincere yet so misguided that it somehow manages to move beyond mere offensiveness.
Steve Coogan: This movie has a generosity of spirit even though there are these things that would be very offensive in another context. That's the trick to doing comedy that takes risks.
Steve Coogan as Dana Marchz and Elisabeth Shue as Elisabeth Shue in Hamlet 2 (Focus Feature)
The film also takes risks by asking a Hollywood celebrity to make fun of herself.
Dana: You look like my favorite actress Elisabeth Shue.
Elisabeth: I am her.
Dana: No you really look like her.
Elisabeth: That's because I am her.
But in the film, Oscar-nominated Elisabeth Shue has retired from acting and has taken up nursing. Fleming says he "stalked" Shue and begged her to do the part.
Andrew Fleming: She was completely up for the humiliation of it. There was this one scene where the kids in the class don't know who she is and that was actually her idea.
What Hamlet 2 (rated R for language including sexual references, brief nudity and some drug content) lacks in good taste it makes up for in energy and audacity. Th etrick the film pulls off is that you are initially laughing at Dana for everything from his bad acting & to his lame ideas. But somewhere along the way, Coogan makes us care for Dana and his loopy passions. Some are likely to be offended but the film's point is that art - be it good or bad - is meant to engage the audience and stir a reaction. Hamlet 2 does that and makes you laugh along the way.
Companion viewing: A Midwinter's Tale, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead,
South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut