The Bard might be squirming in his grave, but not actually turning, with "'Hamlet 2," given that it doesn't quite live up to its eccentrically campy promise.
Steve Coogan is sometimes absurdly funny as a delusional drama teacher and tortured artist. And a couple of the production numbers in the redux of the Shakespearean play are crazy clever, but the wit is spotty and sporadic. Its sharply funny moments make its lack of consistency all the more evident. The movie ends up feeling like a collection of moments, rather than a coherent quirky comedy.
Coogan plays wannabe actor/ high school drama teacher Dana Marschz (the pronunciation of which is a recurring joke). His failed attempts at acting are a comic highlight. Catherine Keener plays his unhappy wife, Brie, who is joined at the hip by their roommate/boarder (David Arquette).
Dana considers himself an inspirational teacher and courageous drama impresario. But he quakes in the face of the critical pans of a puny ninth-grade student who gives his plays (including a theatrical version of Erin Brockovich) a series of bad reviews.
Dana also is facing the imminent closure of the theater program, as his Tucson public high school faces budget cuts. He conceives of a sequel to Hamlet done as musical theater and is convinced of its brilliance.
The racy material outrages the school principal, and much of the community, but Dana thinks he has hit creative pay dirt. As protests mount, he gets unexpected support from an ACLU lawyer with the amusing name of Cricket Feldstein (Amy Poehler).
Elisabeth Shue has a strange role as a version of herself who has given up acting for nursing. Dana's quest for artistic expression is realized during the musical extravaganza with its ridiculously catchy number,"Rock Me, Sexy Jesus."
This Sundance Film Festival hit is irreverent and occasionally inspired. But the best part is the ambitious production. When it focuses too much on the travails of the high school students he means to guide and mold, the movie strays into "Dangerous Minds" territory and loses its comic punch.