$10 million Sundance Acquisition Hamlet 2

Focus Features Photo For our critic, sitting through the $10 million Sundance acquisition Hamlet 2 was the equivalent of suffering the slings and arrows of (an) outrageous fortune.

By Richard Horgan

PARK CITY, UT (RUSHPRNEWS) AUGUST 26, 2008–Imagine, if you are not a festivalgoer, trudging through sleet and snow at high altitude to read subtitles, decipher Romanian abortion dramas and bank nine murky short films for every memorable one. Under such circumstances, a goofy comedy provides not only welcome comic relief but also perfect-storm circumstances for going overboard with the kudos.

Such is the case with Hamlet 2, which glided out of the 2008 Sundance Film Festival with effusive critical praise, serious buzz and a multi-million dollar distribution deal. However, when it comes to the question ‘To laugh, or not to laugh?’ at the story of a ridiculously inept high school drama teacher, the answer in my case is a resounding negative.

Not for one second did I buy into this film’s premise, which in terms of execution hews closer to the Christopher Guest of For Your Consideration than it does to the Christopher Guest of Waiting for Guffman. The beauty of Guest, when he and his cohorts are clicking on all cylinders, is that they anchor everything in realism, play it straight and allow the humor to spill over in subtle waves. Here, director Andrew Fleming and co-writer Pam Brady go way over the top, which again may be perfect for Day #6 at Sundance but is not so hot a proposition when you’re talking about Day #2 of a late August summer weekend.
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Deserving of keener satire

Nowhere is the failure of this film more evident than in the much ballyhooed Elisabeth Shue subplot. Roping the actress into the proceedings isn’t the problem. Rather, the difficulty comes from the fact that if you’re going to try and convince an audience that this is the REAL Elisabeth Shue, you need to come up with a back story that more aptly matches her current circumstances.

Shue at the Canyon Ranch spa in Tucson, on a little break from Gracie and First Born, maybe; Shue working as a low-level nurse and offering no logical answer as to why she would have left the biz, no way. To make matters worse, when Coogan’s character, high school drama teacher Dana Marschz, first meets her, he gushes that she is positively his favorite actress of all-time.

This is symptomatic of how Hamlet 2 is hamstrung by its broadly exaggerated approach; there’s no need for Shue to be that high up on Marschz’s personal pantheon, and by framing her as such, comedic credulity is once again stretched. It would have been much funnier for example if Coogan’s character were to itemize how Shue is his fourth favorite actress.
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Gracing a Poehler opposite to Lubitsch

Buttressed by a lack of Hamlet 2 being true to thine own self, everything feels about as organic as Joe Piscopo as Hamlet in the 1995 movie Open Season. A subplot encompassing Marschz’s unhappy wife (Catherine Keener) and a strange roommate (David Arquette) is completely superfluous; the bombastic character of the high school principal (Marshall Bell), completely unbelievable; and Amy Poehler’s civil liberties crusader Cricket Feldtsein, ditto (though she does deliver one of the movie’s very few laugh-out-loud lines about the legal skirmish advantage provided by a Jewish husband).

In the original Hamlet, the play is of course the thing. So naturally in this newer comedic concoction, all narrative set-ups lead to the climactic staging of the titular Hamlet 2 production. Taken on its own merits, the Shakespeare sequel from hell does have quite a bit going for it. But like the rest of the film, the circumstances of its staging are so preposterously unbelievable that you don’t care. It’s too much; a simple high school auditorium and no media attention would have sufficed.

Ultimately, Fleming stomps all over Hamlet the way he desecrated a beloved original with his 2003 remake of The In-Laws. He should have taken a cue from Arrested Development, the great TV show for which he directed a single episode (“Queen for a Day”), or Ernst Lubitsch’s classic 1942 Shakespeare-tinged comedy To Be or Not to Be. E.g., to borrow another famous phrase from Hamlet, ‘Brevity is the soul of wit.’

NEWS SOURCE: filmstew.com

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