Hamlet 2

Not to be . . .

Anyone who attempts to piggyback on Shakespeare's and arguably the world's most renowned drama, Hamlet, better be sharp. Director/co-writer Andrew Fleming doesn't meet the daunting expectation, nor does his star, Steve Coogan, who just didn't elicit sympathy as the hero, even though I was favorably predisposed. Allusions to Dead Poets Society and Mr. Holland's Opus abound, but similar to Hamlet, serve to highlight Hamlet 2's deficiencies.

Tucson public school drama teacher Dana Marschz (Steve Coogan) must come up with a winning original play or suffer further indignation by a ninth-grade drama critic and closing out of the program by the school board. Apparently his adaptations of films to stage have been thrilling only to two geeky drama students. His domestic life is a similar loss awaiting termination: His wife, Brie (Catherine Keener), hammers him for shooting sperm blanks and will make a decision not unlike the School Board's and the drama critic's.

It's worth noting that even the stellar performances of the women can't save the film from disappointment: Elizabeth Shue as herself refreshes the tired plot the minute she arrives as a disaffected former star; Amy Pohler is the embodiment of bitchy ACLU operatives; and Keener is always effective as a sexy, pragmatic, disaffected independent woman. Younger than they but with a great deal of promise is Phoebe Strole as Epiphany, a devoted but woefully na?ve young actress

The climax, peak, or just most energetic part of the film is the actual musical sequel to the great tragedy (Dana confesses his life is a "parody of a tragedy," the most accurate line of the film). It's a silly sack of shtick elevated lamely by its juxtaposition with the inane previous "acts": a time machine contrived to reverse the tragic elements of the original, the Tucson Gay men's Chorus singing Someone Saved my Life Tonight, and the signature song, Rock Me, Sexy Jesus?a sassy reminder of its inspiration's richness, Jesus Christ, Superstar.

As a former thespian, I could appreciate the mayhem and low-level of high school drama; Coogan brings a seeming lack of talent to his part, another authentic touch to an otherwise unremarkable satire. "The play's the thing" as Hamlet prepares his revenge; the film is not.