©2008 Big Empire Industries and Randy Shandis Enterprises
Every right imaginable is reserved.


This week:
Hamlet 2

Filthy says:
"Stop beating on local theater like a red-headed step child!!"

If you want to see comically bad and grandiose amateur theater, go to amateur theater. Somewhere near you, awful drama is happening this week. I don't mean the kid bawling like a baby because cops just found fifteen bucks of crystal meth in his underwear and they're going to tell his parents. And I don't mean the drunk guy behind the Tavern, kicking the waste-oil bin and howling with rage because victory at tabletop shuffleboard was snatched from his grasp when Worm and his new girlfriend bumped him while tongue-wrestling to a Charlie Daniels Band track on the jukebox.

Actually, the guy in the alley isn't a bad actor; he's a tableau of handsome, powerful anger, untapped in a ravishing display of manhood. Can I tell you a secret? That man was me. God, did I look good. Except for when my foot got soaked in semi-gelled fat.

I'm talking about teenagers doing "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" or middle-aged hacks hamming their way through "Murder's a Bitch", in a murder-mystery dinner theater. You want to laugh so hard you piss not only your pants but those of the person sitting next to you? You should see the production of "Hair" at the Arvada Eggs and Bards breakfast theater. All-you-can-eat scrambled eggs and hash browns, served by writhing hippies singing "Aquarius". I like the restaurant's slogan, though: "Why not get your theater out of the way early?"

My point is, you don't need to look very far to see comically bad theater. And when you want to see it, why not support local, comically bad amateurs? Still, professional--and sometimes decent--actors, writers and directors find bad theater too wide a target to miss. There are some pretty funny examples, especially SCTV's "I'm Taking My Own Head, Screwing it on Right, and No Guy's Gonna Tell me That it Ain't" starring Libby Wolfson and Sue "Bopper" Simpson, Waiting for Guffman with Christopher Guest, Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara and "Streetcar" on The Simpson's. There are grandiose interpretations of amateur theater, like Rushmore, which is pretty damn funny. Mostly, though, the parodies are crap, and mostly on the Disney Channel. Although, I can't say for sure whether that shit is supposed to be a parody. It's the work of people who actually aren't much more talented than the amateurs they're mocking.

Hamlet 2 falls into the crap category. It's a shapeless, weirdly unmoving and unfunny mess of that lampoons sappy inspriational-teacher movies while slavishly following their blueprint and plot points. It tries to get cheap laughs out of overblown high school plays, while redeeming its characters through the same, and trying to convince it transcends the same shit we're supposed to laugh at.

I was looking forward to this movie, because the star Steve Coogan can be pretty fucking funny. And clever, like in Tristram Shandy: a Cock and Bull Story. He created a few characters in the UK that were profoundly funny, pathetic and sympathetic. He's going for the same thing here as a Tucson drama teacher who is going to be out of a job unless he raises enough money with his next play to save the program. He is a terrible actor, but a somewhat passionate teacher who wants to pass on the little he knows, and produce his play versions of popular movies. Faced with losing his job and the scathing reviews from his school paper's critic, he goes out on a limb and writes his first new material, Hamlet 2.

In Coogan's play, Hamlet comes back from the dead through a time machine, as do Ophelia, Gertrude and the rest of the sad-sack Danes. For some reason, Jesus is along for the ride, too. Hamlet 2 is a musical, of course, with jokey songs, like "Rock Me, Sexy Jesus". With the Savior signed up for action, you're guaranteed some jokes that are meant to be outrageous by invoking the name rather than by being funny. Of course, this is Hollywood shit, so it isn't actually blasphemous (or clever), just timidly controversial. I would bet the makers were hoping to God they would get the press coverage of a Christian boycott.

Throughout Hamlet 2, I waited and waited for the story to resolve all its lame hoodlums-get-inspired plot devices and finally reveal the big play. I thought maybe then it would get funny. But by the time of the show, so much diarrhea has gone under bridge that I just didn't give a monkey's right nut.

The biggest problem is Coogan's totally bewildering and sappy performance. The man likes to gives his characters pathos, but this is an unshaped mess. At all times, he's a 50-Watt dimbulb, and I mean in intelligence and energy. Most of the time, he's doing stupid shit that's supposed to be funny, like riding on rollerskates in his tweed jacket. But Coogan undermines the comedy by making his teacher sad and low-key. And he burdens the character with so much emotional baggage it's pretty easy to forget he's supposed to be funny. He's a recovering alcoholic who, of course, goes off the wagon, There aren't any big laughs in that, and it's dropped as quickly as it's brought up. His wife (Catherine Keener - criminally underused - she's fucking hot) gets impregnated by a boarder in their house and leaves Coogan for him. But nothing leads up to this and the consequence is just to make Coogan sadder, not funnier. Also, Coogan apparently has some father issue that are never explored; it just pops up and is meant to explain him. This shit is meant to add gravity, but who the fuck needs gravity in a movie about a bad high school drama teacher staging a sequel to Hamlet? Coogan would have been way funnier playing broader and with a stronger backbone.

At the beginning of the movie, Coogan cites several cheesy hoodlums-inspired-by-teachers movies to his class. It could be a setup for a subversive take on the genre. That maybe not all teachers are inspiring; some fuckup kids forever. Instead, the plot of Hamlet 2 is identical to their plots. The kids think he's a dork at the beginning. By the end, they give their all to defend him and make his dream come true. They've been transformed from thugs to sensitive, inspired thespians, and the toughest boy and the softest girl find enough in common to lick each other's faces. Maybe this is meant to be satire of inspirational teacher flicks, but shit, if it is, it's done so badly I missed the joke.

The climactic theater production is just painful. There are a couple funny things in the staging of Hamlet 2, but the jokes are primarily based on the premise that we'll think we're so fucking cool not being offended by its faux outrageousness. It's a crappy play, filled with awful acting and a stupid, obvious story, but all that somehow stops being a joke. Instead, the crowd goes nuts and loves it. In the end, not only is this drunki, stupid loser redeemed, he goes to Broadway becomes a celebrity. Seriously. This ending is easy and unfunny, plus it doesn't resolve all the sappy "issues" Coogan's teacher has. Instead, it plays into the simplistic Hollywood bullshit that wealth and fame are the solution for everything. Without even smirking.

This movie would have been way fucking funnier if the play tanked like it should have, and Coogan was sent into a spiral of shame and booze that he could never pull out of, or if he did it was by being so drunk he reached celebrity status (although, mayb eI am projecting my own wishes here). Sadly, director/writer Andrew Fleming doesn't have the imagination or balls to do anything unconventional or genuinely contrversial. So, a crappy story ends crappily, and Steve Coogan shoots himself in the balls in trying to become an American movie star. Two Fingers for Hamlet 2.

Want to tell Filthy Something?



The Shameless Pete Hammond of Hollywood.com

The Longshots is "A big winner for the whole family!"

The Rocker is "Riotously entertaining!"

Filthy's Reading
Junot Diaz- The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Listening to
The Fluid - purplemetal-flakemusic


The Sweet Smell of Success