07
Feb
08

Leonid Rozhetskin; Sundance: The Scoop on ”Hamlet 2”

 Via Entertaiment Weekly

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If you’re a fan of Steve Coogan, that King Leer of a motormouth British comedian who starred in 24 Hour Party People, came to Hollywood (remember his glorious performance as his own trumped-up self in Jim Jarmusch‘s Coffee and Cigarettes?), and saw his crossover American career do a nosedive before it had even gotten off the ground, then you won’t want to miss Hamlet 2, in which he’s like the son of Peter Sellers crossed with a more handsome version of Tiny Tim. This is the movie that Coogan cultists have been waiting for — the one that finally lets him cut his inner wildman loose, only within a structure that lends method to his madness.

He plays a godawful failed actor, despised by his wife (a scalding Catherine Keener), who has become a self-loathing high-school drama teacher, and Coogan turns this pathetic yet insistently egomaniacal creature into a loser-nerd of genius. He mugs, he glowers, he hams up his telling of jokes too corny-horrible to print, and — most mesmerizingly — he comes on like a sarcastic geek acting like a swishy queen trying to pass himself off as a ”normal” heterosexual Middle American.

Make no mistake: The gay/not gay camp-theatrical weirdness is built right into Hamlet 2, which Andrew Fleming has directed and cowritten like a broader, more looney-tunes version of Waiting for Guffman. To save his job, Coogan’s lowly drama instructor writes and stages a musical sequel to Hamlet 2, in which a time machine returns the great Dane to life, so that he can save himself and everyone else in the play. As opening night approaches, the show becomes hugely controversial, because it is blasphemous (and demented) in almost every way. Yet really, it’s a high school musical that would make John Waters proud. You may wonder what could possibly be funny about a song called ”Raped in the Face,” but when you see this and other numbers, such as ”Rock Me Sexy Jesus,” they give off such a happy blast of cluelessness that the show seems to be rediscovering — through its very offensiveness — the unhinged glory of showbiz.

Hamlet 2 doesn’t have the exquisiteness of Guffman; with Coogan as its maestro/vamp in chief, it’s more like a one-man demolition derby of bad taste. But you will laugh, and, with any luck, you will become a believer in Steve Coogan, who in this film proves as uproarious an anarchist as Sascha Baron Cohen. At Sundance 2008, that’s what independence looked like.

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