Proving even film festival audiences can make a mistake, “Hamlet 2” arrives in theaters hoping to cash in on some solid pre-release buzz created after its screening at Sundance earlier this year.
The film wants to be an edgy indie-comedy, but proves to be nothing more than a middle of the road picture with more misses than hits.
Steve Coogan (the director in “Tropic Thunder”) stars as Dana Marschz, a failed actor turned high school drama teacher in a Tucson high school.
Marschz’s teaching career proves to be just as unrewarding as his acting career - his class consists of two students doing bad recreations of films like “Erin Brockovich.”
When an asbestos problem leaves him with a room full of students, Marschz sets out to inspire the class, only to learn that his job is about to be eliminated due to budget cuts.
Determined not to be a failure in two careers, Marschz sets out to create an original work that will save his class and prove his abilities as an artist.
Marschz’s creation is “Hamlet 2,” a politically incorrect musical sequel to Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” about Hamlet and Jesus traveling in a time machine to help Hamlet erase the tragic events from the original play.
It should come as no surprise that Marschz’s play draws the ire of the school, parents and the community.
There are moments in “Hamlet 2” when the comedy works, but the material falls flat more often than it succeeds.
Some of the biggest laughs involve the play’s big musical number, “Rock Me Sexy Jesus,” (which is so wrong, yet funny) and a cameo by Elisabeth Shue, who is quite funny playing a version of herself who has left the business and is now a nurse in Tucson.
Coogan makes the film go with a performance that is so gung-ho you can’t help but admire the effort - but outside of Shue, there really isn’t much more to work with. I’m usually a fan of Catherine Keener, but she has a rather disposable role as Marschz’s wife.
The cast of unknowns playing the students don’t really get much to do either - all the characters are nothing more than clich/ (even though screenwriters Pam Brady and Andrew Fleming try unsuccessfully to tweak a few of the clich/s).
It should be pointed out that for the second week in a row, I attended a midweek screening practically alone. Last week’s film “The Rocker” failed to crack the top 10. “Hamlet 2” will probably suffer the same fate, assuring the likelihood that “Hamlet the Third” never sees the light of day.
DVD dandy of the week
This week’s dandy is “Redbelt” (B-), writer-director David Mamet’s intriguing tale of redemption set in the world of mixed martial arts.
Chiwetel Ejifor stars as Mike Terry, a jiu-jitsu teacher operating a self-defense studio but struggling to make ends meet.
When a fateful event lands Terry a job working for an aging movie star (Tim Allen), things appear to look up. But the good feelings quickly turn sour, ultimately forcing Terry to consider the last thing he ever imagined - entering a competition.
“Redbelt” works for the most part thanks to the typically sharp Mamet screenplay and an outstanding cast.
Allen shows he has dramatic chops, while there is also nice work from Alice Braga as Terry’s wife, Emily Mortimer as a potential student and Joe Mantegna and Ricky Jay as a fast-talking legal adviser and promoter.
But it’s Ejiofor’s performance that gives the film its edge. The actor perfectly conveys the pain and conflict in a man that wants to do the honorable thing but ultimately must question his own ideas and beliefs.
“Redbelt” barely registered a blip at the box office, but deserves a second chance on home video.
“Redbelt” is rated R for strong language and will be available on DVD on Tuesday.
— Sportswriter/movie reviewer Micheal Compton, who’s getting a bit tired of the late-summer drivel that’s currently filling theaters, can be reached by e-mailing email@example.com.