Much like the play within it, “Hamlet 2” is lousy. The main difference is that the play is “supposed” to be awful. The movie “about” the play is supposed to be funny.

But despite the fact that one of its screenwriters is credited with contributing to “South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut” – probably the greatest if crudest plea for First Amendment freedoms in the history of filmmaking – “Hamlet 2” is a joke waiting for a punchline, a painful bore that exists only for a final act that’s never quite worth the wait.

The film, which premiered at Sundance earlier this year, centers on monomaniacal Tucson high-school drama teacher Dana Marschz (Steve Coogan), who is about to lose his job and possibly his wife (the wonderfully acerbic Catherine Keener). The clueless Marschz decides to write a masterpiece to save his class: a musical sequel to “Hamlet” that gives Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy a happy ending and allows him to work through a few of his father issues.

The play, which also includes a time-traveling Jesus, is deemed too offensive by the principal (Marshall Bell) and is promptly canceled. But soon an ACLU lawyer (Amy Poehler) shows up to assure everybody that the show will go on.

Coogan is an inventive comedian – see him in “Tristam Shandy,” and you’ll have no idea why he bothered with this drivel – but he’s hamstrung by material that prides itself only on its crassness. But aside from one particularly appalling song, “Hamlet 2” isn’t even particularly crude; it’s barely even subversive. The signature number, “Rock Me Sexy Jesus,” is only mildly amusing, funnier in concept than execution. It’s not even in the same league as a certain unprintably titled song from the “South Park” movie that makes you laugh every time you hear it.

So instead of sharp satire, we get Coogan intoning, “My life is a parody of a tragedy.” But the real tragedy here is that someone might actually pay to see this dull mess of a movie.

Film focus

WHAT: “Hamlet 2”

RATED: R for language, including sexual references, brief nudity, some drug content

RATING: 1 star

RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes


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