Review in a Hurry: To see or not to see? There is no question. Actor/teacher Dana Marschz (Steve Coogan)—more of an Ed Wood than a William Shakespeare—stages a bizarre sequel to the Bard's tragedy, with comedic results. Demented Hamlet 2 tickles the ribs as it treads the boards.
The Bigger Picture: This irreverent satire, a hit at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, may be set in Tucson, Ariz., but it would feel right at home in South Park, Colo. Like that TV series, Hamlet 2—coscripted by Pam Brady (South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut; Team America: World Police)—indulges in un-PC outrageousness and across-the-spectrum political skewering.
British comic Coogan stars as Dana, a failed, talentless actor who now teaches drama at a local high school. The poor guy, an infertile, recovering alcoholic, is having a tough year: His latest play, an adaptation of Erin Brockovich, gets panned by the ninth-grade critic, and his department is targeted for cancellation. Worse, he's saddled with a new class of unruly thugs.
The film drags somewhat during this familiar setup—teacher trying to connect with troubled students. But things click once Dana hatches his controversial Hamlet sequel, a musical featuring a time machine and several historical figures. Badass kid Octavio (Joseph Julian Soria) displays raw talent and takes on the titular role, while Dana dons robes to play Jesus. (Like Hamlet and Christ, Dana has major daddy issues.)
The craziness and hilarity escalate as school officials, parents and religious zealots protest the production, and Dana receives unexpected support from an opportunistic ACLU lawyer (an awesome Amy Poehler) and Elisabeth Shue, playing herself and deserving this year's Good Sport Award.
Coogan is a hoot, making desperate Dana a likeable loser, while Catherine Keener scores big laughs as his caustic, sharp-tongued wife. But it's the freaky show within the show that earns the loudest ovations, with its infectious "Rock Me, Sexy Jesus" number and oddly affecting "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" sequence, as characters experience epiphanies onstage and off.
Who knew such lunacy could be so inspiring?
The 180—a Second Opinion: This pic won't please Shakespeare purists, religious prigs or prickly Tusconians who can't enjoy a few jabs at their town. In fact, if you're easily offended in any way, you should probably steer clear.