Shakespeare 450: Hamlet 2 - DVD Review

2014 marks what would have been William Shakespeare's 450th birthday. In celebration of this (and being something of a Shakespeare nut) Ben intends to spend the year taking in as many Shakespeare films as he can - from old favourites to new interpretations and everything in between.

'nothing of the eponymous stage production is seen until the final act, which is a shame as what we do see of the show is by far the film’s the most entertaining element'

Whether it’s out of genuine curiosity, or a desire to see how spectacular a car crash it might end up as, the high concept behind Hamlet 2 - what if someone decided to make a time-travel-based musical sequel to one of Shakespeare’s most revered plays? - is likely to be the key point of interest for anyone drawn to Andrew Fleming’s film. If only the director had realised this when making it, Hamlet 2 might have ended up a more consistently enjoyable experience.

As it is, nothing of the eponymous stage production is seen until the final act, which is a shame as what we do see of the show is by far the film’s the most entertaining element. The provocative subject matter of the play within the film is unsurprising considering Pam Brady, Fleming’s collaborator on the screenplay, also worked on the likes of South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut and Team America: World Police. Admittedly nothing here ever reaches the heights of either of those films, but there’s certainly fun to be had. Don’t be surprised if, like me, you have the chorus to blasphemous broadway number “Rock Me Sexy Jesus” stuck in your head for days after watching.

What precedes this enjoyable final third unfortunately never delivers much beyond the mediocre. Despite in some ways feeling like a distant cousin of Steve Coogan’s most famous creation Alan Partridge, failed actor turned drama teacher Dana Marschz (Coogan) - who pens the Shakespearean sequel - is just too snivelling and spineless a character to get behind. Dana spends Hamlet 2 being put upon by pretty much everyone, including students, their parents and his school colleagues. Dana’s wife Brie (Catherine Keener) is worst of all, her sole purpose here being to make her husband appear as feeble and unlikeable as possible through a predictable and otherwise entirely pointless subplot with David Arquette’s Gary.

The director picks and chooses whether or not he can be bothered with a main plot throughout. An early development in which Dana has to deal with an influx of tough, unruly students into his normally sparsely attended drama lessons is initially built up as a primary focus, only for Fleming to abruptly drop the idea almost completely. The director starts off feeling as though he’s attempting a pastiche of “inspirational teacher” films, but actually ends up just making a sub-par imitation of one for much of the running time. Those hoping for actual Shakespeare-related content will also find Hamlet 2 lacking for the most part. Ideas shared with the original Hamlet - Dana’s unresolved issues with his father; the metadrama of a play taking place within the play/film - are crafted from broad strokes with zero substance.

Fleming’s realisation that he should have concentrated on Dana’s play and not Dana himself ultimately comes too late to save his film. In choosing Coogan’s character as the focus of the majority of his film, Fleming turns Hamlet 2 in to an overwhelmingly tedious and largely unamusing experience.

Keep up to date with the Shakespeare 450 series so far.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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