(director/writer: Andrew Fleming; screenwriter: Pam Brady; cinematographer: Alexander Gruszynski; editor: Jeff Freeman; music: Ralph Sall; cast: Steve Coogan (Dana Marschz), Catherine Keener (Brie Marschz), David Arquette (Gary), Amy Poehler (Cricket Feldstein), Melonie Diaz (Ivonne), Joseph Julian Soria (Octavio), Skylar Astin (Rand Posin), Phoebe Strole (Epiphany Sellers), Shea Pepe (Noah Sapperstein), Elisabeth Shue (herself); Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Eric D. Eisner/Leonid Rozhetskin/Aaron Ryder; Focus Features; 2008)

“Witless spoof on Hamlet that is more irritating than funny.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Holy Shakespeare, the bard’s name is used in vain in this low-life witless spoof on Hamlet that is more irritating than funny. What a pile of crap, as helmed and cowritten by Andrew Fleming (“Nancy Drew”). Pam Brady is the cowriter. The ill-at-ease Brit comedian, Steve Coogan, is in his breakthrough starring role in this profane comedy, that has him acting moronically goofy (but not funny) as a failed TV actor in herpes commercials and current high school drama teacher, Dana Marschz (Steve Coogan), in West Mesa High School, in Tucson, Arizona. The hapless teacher, receiving a bad review from a 9th grade drama critic for his last theater production of Erin Brockovich (his specialty is turning in inspirational movies into theater productions), tries to put together a production of “Hamlet 2” to rescue his high-school drama program from the fiscal ax. It follows the dull arc of those inspirational classroom films (like Dead Poets Society and Mr. Holland’s Opus), as the oddball former alcoholic teacher jerks around his uninterested dummy students (made up of bad-assed rowdy Mexican-Americans, whitey Christians and closeted gays) and motivates the chaotic class to come together for the sake of the bard and put on Hamlet as a musical sequel with a time machine. The irreverent and shallow comedy disdains political correctness and dramatic credibility, as it wallows in its grossness and mean-spirited humor. It comes up smelling more like a weed than a rose.

The talented Catherine Keener is wasted playing Brie Marschz, Dana’s pot dealing nagging wife, who is doing the naughty with hubby’s best friend (David Arquette). The dumb jokes, like the running gag over the mispronunciation of Marschz (pronounced Mars-chhh-zzz), never fly. Coogan relies on unfunny pratfalls to get across his physical humor and lacks the ability to spring on us anything cerebral.

The school play’s Hamlet (Joseph Julian Soria) implores through song for Christ (played by Coogan) to “Rock Me, Sexy Jesus.” The school officials deplore the production and try to get it closed. But ACLU lawyer Cricket Feldstein (Amy Poehler) and Leaving Las Vegas star Elisabeth Shue, playing herself as an ex-Hollywood actress who digs working in the Tucson sperm clinic, support the play and help teach fight the town civic leaders.

No real pointed satire is ever displayed, as the desperate comedy throws everything against the wall in the hopes something funny sticks. The nervous comedian never got the right combination of vulnerability and buffoonery to pull off this sloppily made vulgar film. What does occur, is that the play within the film matches the film in being an embarrassment.

REVIEWED ON 8/30/2008 GRADE: C-   https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/