Steve Coogan is one of those actors you really want to love. Every clip from his British television work teases, hinting that he’s got something to offer. And yet, in films such as Around the World in 80 Days, Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story and Night at the Museum, he always looks ill at ease. Through it all, you think, If only Coogan were handed the right role, he’d be hilarious. Whatever that role might be, it isn’t Dana Marschz, the shockingly inept, preening high-school drama teacher at the heart of the dishearteningly unfunny Hamlet 2.
When budget cuts kill the school’s drama program, Dana is determined to go out in a blaze of glory with an original idea; he writes a demented sequel to Hamlet, which includes time travel and a musical number called “Rock Me Sexy Jesus.” Somehow, Dana inspires his indifferent students, who look like refugees from Dangerous Minds, not only to perform in this travesty, but even to fight back when the principal tries to put a stop to the production. There might be an actor who could overcome Andrew Fleming and Pam Brady’s scattershot script and Fleming’s flat direction, but it isn’t Coogan. He flounders around trying to find the right mix of vanity and buffoonery for Dana, looking vaguely embarrassed. He should be.
Bafflingly, this poorly executed, undercooked comedy was the big winner at Sundance this year, snapped up by Focus for $10 million. To which we reply as we do to the idea of a sequel to Hamlet: What were they thinking?