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Hamlet 2 (2008)

Universal Studios Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 12/21/2008

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Video: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 12/28/2008

When we speak of a movie having a great idea, we are typically talking about an action-adventure or science-fiction film. These are the type of movies where the central premise is big and imaginative, making us nod in appreciation of the cleverness behind it. Rarely do we crown dramas ("couple gets married and fights") or comedies ("mistaken-identity-sex-romp") with this compliment. Hamlet 2 is an exception to that rule, as the movie features an incredibly simple, yet clever, idea. It's too bad that the rest of the movie shows no inspiration whatsoever.

Steve Coogan stars in Hamlet 2 as Dana Marschz, a struggling actor who works as a high school drama teacher in Tucson. Dana gets little respect from the students or the community (or the critic at the school's paper), as his plays are merely re-stagings popular Hollywood films, such as Erin Brokovich. Dana's wife, Brie (Catherine Keener), is aloof and not happy with the fact that they've had to take in a border (David Arquette) in order to make ends meet. Dana reaches the end of his rope when he's told that the drama program is being cancelled. At the same time, his usually small class is filled with uninterested students when part of the school burns down. Feeling that he's got nothing to lose, Dana decides to use these new students to stage one final production. The only problem is that he doesn't have any ideas, and due to the past criticism, he refuses to do another movie. Inspiration strikes Dana and he decides to do a sequel to Hamlet. Nothing can go wrong with that, right?

Hamlet 2 was co-written by Pam Brady, who is a writer on South Park and wrote Hot Rod, which certainly had its moments. With Hamlet 2, she and Co-writer/Director Andrew Fleming (more on him in a moment) have come up with a great concept. As is pointed out in the film, could anyone in the theater do anything more audacious than to attempt a sequel to Shakespeare's Hamlet? The idea itself would be enough to get people interested in the movie. And once the ideas and focus of the play in the film is revealed, it seems as if the movie will be comedy gold. And yet, it's not. While the idea of a sequel to Hamlet sounds like something which would be aimed at a highbrow (film-festival) audience, the jokes here are aimed at the lowest common denominator and are often very cheap and stupid. For example, a movie about a man confronting his childhood through theater should not contain a running joke where a person keeps getting hit in the head.

Blame must go to Director Andrew Fleming as well. Looking at his track record, with films like Bad Dreams, The Craft, Dick, and Nancy Drew, Fleming has a history of making movies which are promising, but he simply can't seal the deal, and Hamlet 2 is no exception. The movie, again, features a great concept and a good cast, but this is one of the most boring and unfunny movies of the year. Coogan is game and clearly throws himself into the role, but the rest of the cast is fairly lethargic. The film is attempting to spoof movies like Dangerous Minds, but that doesn't change the fact that the characters are all stereotypes and little effort is made to develop them or change our minds about them.

There's no other way to describe Hamlet 2 other than major disappointment. I remember when the Red Band trailer for this movie was making the rounds and it looked very funny. In actuality, the movie is sluggishly paced and banal. And again, the film just can't back up its ideas. When you hear a snippet of the song "Rock Me, Sexy Jesus" in the trailer, it sounds funny, but hearing the entire song, you realize that there's a fine line between blasphemy and stupidity.

Hamlet 2 roller skates onto DVD courtesy of Universal Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and fairly clear, but there is noticeable grain in some shots. The colors are good, especially those which come in the finale, but the picture is a bit soft at times. The detail level is acceptable, but the movie looks flat and has a somewhat "low rent" look about it. The DVD contains a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are good, and we really get a taste of them during the third act. The stereo separation is fine and the audience's applause comes from both sides. These scenes also sport some surround sound and we get a sense of being in the actual crowd.

The Hamlet 2 DVD contains a few extra features. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director/Co-writer Andrew Fleming and Co-writer Pam Brady. This is an OK commentary, as the two provide scene-specific comments throughout the film. They give us some info about the movie, such as locations and casting, but they also try to be funny, and again prove that they aren't. The DVD contains one DELETED SCENE which runs three minutes. This awkward scene between Dana, Brie, and Gary isn't funny and ruins a surprise from later in the film. "Making Number 2" (16 minutes) is a making-of featurette which offers comments from Fleming, Brady, Coogan, and much of the cast. They talk about the creation of the script, especially the actual play in the film. The piece also focuses on the cast, examining each main actor and character. "Oscar Winner vs. High School Drama Class" (1 minute) juxtaposes actual scenes from Erin Brokovich and the play in the movie which tackles the story. "Sing Along with Hamlet 2" offers two songs from the finale with karaoke-style on-screen lyrics.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long