Take on one the best known stories, one by William Shakespeare, no less, and tweak it enough to make tragedy comedy, in no stranger a place than the American southwest.
Ah, yes, brilliant idea.Love the pitch, says the studio. But what about the script?Who is going to be in this film?And what exactly are you going to say about Tucson that will likely offend their Chamber of Commerce, and virtually anyone who’s ever lived there?
Well, we have the remarkable talents of British comedian Steve Coogan.Sure, the American audience doesn’t know him, but ever since Chaplin there’s been a rich history of British comics succeeding on these shores.He’ll be our teacher, Dana Marschz, an inspired sap compelled into wrangling a team of disinterested students to take on an original script for a high school theater production.Oh, by the way, he’s such a loser that every aspect of his life screams failure.Got it.OK.Next.
We’ll have Elizabeth Shue going against type by playing herself.Yes, herself, as a sperm bank nurse who has walked away from Hollywood because the roles no longer seem to matter.
I think we can get Amy Poehler to do a walk on as ACLU lawyer Cricket Feldstein, a person more consumed with herself and media microphones than any of the issues she is hired to fight.
And there’s the always skillful Catherine Keener, as Coogan’s witty wife Brie, upset about having to live in Tucson, and quite willing to share her reservations about the town’s limitations.
Don’t worry about the student roles.We’ll just get a bunch of nobodies, like in all the teen movies.Someone will stand out.We’ll try to make sure both the guys and the girls are hot, though, so it will appeal to everyone.Are we all good on this?Good.
But even with this Hollywood formula for success, or at least this Hollywood formula for casting a film, there is no guarantee that the script delivers, that the jokes are on point, or that the audience can even relate to any of the characters.
And that’s the problem with Hamlet 2.
While there are moments here, mostly British comedy moments from Coogan, this is not a film that succeeds.The script is terribly uneven, with significant jumps, major situations and confrontations that seem to be ignored in subsequent scenes, and set-ups and deliveries that can be seen coming from the start.
Coogan will find a home on these shores.His physical comedy does work.His deadpan is skilled.And his comfortable portrayal of a loser, in every sense of the word, harkens back to characters like Woody Allen’s Fielding Mellish from Bananas.These are not roles that young actors desire, so it’s good to see someone who is happy to play the fool.
But first attempts at carrying an entire film often fall flat, particularly when a stronger ensemble, or better defined roles for the female characters, would have helped punch up Coogan some more.
There’s a decidedly Hollywood angle, and ending, to this story.Hamlet 2 is more Hollywood than Waiting for Guffman.It’s not as funny, or sad, as Christopher Guest’s Corky St. Clair, to whom Dan Marschz will undoubtedly be compared.And even though Marschz’s life changes as a result of the production, you wonder whether that really advances the story, and helps to explain how one of the world’s greatest tragedies can truly be turned into a comedy through the worn device of a time machine.
Though it’s a distinct possibility, let’s hope we don’t have the opportunity for Hamlet 3.