Steve Coogan, rockin' you with sexy Jesus in Hamlet 2

At the San Diego Comic-Con this year, I had a chance to interview writer Pam Brady, director Andrew Fleming and star Steve Coogan from the Sundance hit Hamlet 2. The first question I had for Coogan was, “Have you no shame?”

Fortunately, the guy doesn’t. It is his commitment to do anything for a laugh that makes a film like Hamlet 2 work. Whether he’s freaking out over meeting Elizabeth Shue or finding himself bare-ass naked after a drug-induced black-out, Coogan carries this film on his shoulders.

The story follows an emotionally brittle acting teacher named Dana Marschz (Coogan) in Tucson who is facing the loss of the school’s drama program due to budget cuts. In order to breathe some life into the program, Marschz writes an original play called “Hamlet 2″ that is guaranteed to offend everyone.

And offensive it is, but not so much that it gets protesters outside of the premiere. That’s too bad because some media attention for this film would have been great. I suppose if Brady and Fleming had written a song entitled “Rock Me Retard Jesus” rather than “Rock Me Sexy Jesus,” it would have caused more public outrage.

Fleming assured me they planned the film as “an equal-opportunity offender,” since it pokes fun at the ACLU as much as it pokes fun at conservative Tucson and the Christian elite. But the charm of the film is that it actually has a heart behind its humor. You don’t necessarily feel uncomfortable when you laugh at the jokes (unlike last week’s Tropic Thunder, which relied on nervous laughter to be a success). I never thought I’d bemoan the fact that an otherwise offensive movie wasn’t offensive enough. (Scratch that… I say that kind of thing all the time.)

Along with Coogan, the cast is great. Catherine Keener is hilarious as Marschz’s alcoholic, unfaithful wife, and David Arquette delivers a subdued but funny performance as Keener’s extra-marital love interest. But the real casting choice that rivals Coogan is Elizabeth Shue playing herself, who has turned from acting to nursing to find meaning in life.

Shue, who is by far not a great actor, gets the joke that Brady and Fleming were going for, and she lampoons herself all in good humor.

Hamlet 2 offers us a rare moment in cinema to see something truly original. I can’t think of a movie in recent history that has the same feel and attitude, or even remotely the same story. It’s creative and it’s unique. You don’t find that sort of thing at the movies nowadays.

THE UPSIDE: Hilarious performances by Steve Coogan and Elizabeth Shue.

THE DOWNSIDE: Apparently not offensive enough to incur the wrath of Timothy Shriver.

ON THE SIDE: At Comic-Con, Pam Brady asked me to write an angry letter to the Christian Coalition to protest the movie. If anyone wants to send a complaint, here’s their web site: http://www.cc.org. Angry letters can be sent to Christian Coalition of America, P.O. Box 37030, Washington, DC 20013-7030.

Grade: A-


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