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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that although this comedy is set in high school, it's not really a "teen comedy." In fact, it takes a no-holds-barred approach to poking fun at religion, theater, commercialism, racism, reproductive technologies, actors, the ACLU, and anything and everything else. One song is centered on a "rock star" version of Jesus, and there are plenty of jokes that some people may consider crude or vulgar. There are also scenes of underage drinking and drug use, a flash of a man's naked backside, and plenty of salty language.
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What's the story?
You could say that David Marschz (Steve Coogan) is a failure. An actor who never landed more than the occasional gig for a home shopping network or herpes medicine ad, he's now a drama teacher in Tucson -- where his biggest nemesis is the fourth-grade drama critic who never likes any of his plays. (And why should he? They're stagings of Hollywood blockbusters like Erin Brockovich.) When school budget cuts spell the end of the drama program, Marschz decides to put on one final masterpiece: a sequel to Hamlet (featuring, naturally, a rock-star Jesus). Aiding him in his mission are two theater geeks -- judgmental Epiphany (Phoebe Strole) and closeted Rand (Skylar Astin) -- and their new classmates: Latino kids from what they assume are tougher neighborhoods. Meanwhile, Marschz's stoic brother (David Arquette) has just moved in with Marschz and his wife (Catherine Keener) -- who insists that now's the time to get pregnant.
Is it any good?
Loaded with ideas -- some amusing, some daring -- HAMLET 2 (which premiered at Sundance) is a cheeky comedy that doesn't quite hits its mark. On paper, it feels like it should be a walk in the park -- or, rather, South Park, on which one of Hamlet 2's co-writers worked. But although it pushes the envelope, humor-wise, it feels like a Christopher Guest movie without the spark. The ensemble fails to vibe on each other's wackiness, and their eccentricities feel contrived.
Which isn't to say that the movie doesn't have some entertaining moments. A cameo by Elisabeth Shue is especially satisfying, as is Amy Poehler's role, and the students are more than watchable. But for a film this out-there to really work, everyone has to feel committed to the insanity -- and, apart from Coogan, they just don't seem so. That said, when Marschz's musical finally gets its moment under the lights, it feels bizarrely, hilariously transcendent.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the message behind all the over-the-top humor: Why is Marschz compelled to stage one more play, and an original one at that? What's the message of the play? Also, what prejudices does the film make fun of? Does it do an effective job of making its point? What would you say that point is? What genres is the movie satirizing?
- In theaters: August 22, 2008
- On DVD or streaming: December 22, 2008
- Cast: Catherine Keener, David Arquette, Steve Coogan
- Director: Andrew Fleming
- Studio: Focus Features
- Genre: Comedy
- Run time: 92 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language including sexual references, brief nudity and some drug content.
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