The poster for Hamlet 2 references both Napoleon Dynamite and the South Park movie, but the truth is that it isn't much like either. Rather, it's more of an absurdist mating of the offensive and endearing, like the elephant and the pig of South Park fame, only without the late Isaac Hayes crooning sexy ballads in the background.
From the opening scene, Dana (Steve Coogan) reveals just how little talent he has, as he shares the culmination of his acting work: a series of hilariously bad commercials. When his "career" dried up, he turned to teaching, which is how he found himself in the miserable position of drama teacher at a Tucson, Ariz., high school. Due to arts education cuts in the wake of No Child Left Behind, Dana's surviving drama class floods with less-than-enthusiastic students attending by default. Dana tries everything he can to inspire his reluctant students and slowly, painfully wins them over with his buffoonish earnestness as they begin production on his first-ever original work.
But Dana has a hard time catching a break, and watches as his life falls apart piece by piece. His wife, Brie (Catherine Keener), tellingly blurts out, "I seriously wish you would start drinking again," while having a romantic dinner for three with their roommate Gary (David Arquette), which tells you a little something about their marriage. Then Dana gets fired, then the fertility doctor gives him some unwanted news, then his students drug him--it's hard not to feel sorry for the guy, even if he is reminiscent of an ambiguously gay Michael Scott.
There's a lot of cruel humor here, from Dana's haircut (imagine if Javier Bardem weren't terrifying in No Country for Old Men), to the irony backslap of David Arquette being less of a loser than the hero. Coogan even drops trou not once but twice, taking his pathetic character to new depths of depravity. Perhaps now is the right time to say that this is not a movie for the faint of heart, or anyone believing in literal translations of the Bible, for that matter.
Hamlet 2 is, of course, the title of Dana's original play, which the audience has the pleasure of witnessing late in the movie. Mocking every inspirational-teacher flick ever made, the movie's story is intentionally predictable, but the jokes aren't, and there are plenty of them. It's a great little indie comedy, though the pleasantly dark and offensive humor is at odds with the syrupy sweetness of the inspirational tale. This strange yet somehow successful combination may prevent Hamlet 2 from making much money--who is its audience?--but it's a fun, offbeat good time that the adventuresome will enjoy.