The Apatow Revolution in comedy has been pretty cool; it's been refreshing to see movies taking their cues from the hilariously foul-mouthed young guys in this comedic cadre, where half the dialogue is improvised -- an easy task when the actors are all playing somebody we all seem to already know a version of in our real lives. The only problem is that between the Apatow crowd and its compatriot group the Frat Pack, the late 2000s don't provide much room in comedy for anything else. It's a shame, because it means that an awesomely crazy movie like Hamlet 2 could slip through the cracks.
Let's be clear, though, this isn't a hokey, old-timey comedy. It's full of excellent deadpan sarcasm and the kind of total-madness non sequitur humor that's come to define modern comedy. It's also laden with just enough irreverence, shock, and subversion (there's an awesome musical number called "Raped in the Face"), not to mention tons of funny references that lampoon seemingly ephemeral and indefinable concepts with biting accuracy. It's just that, despite all this, it's also full of balls-out nerdery and silliness. Case in point, Steve Coogan plays lead character Dana, a relatively talentless actor who's climbed down the ladder from infomercials and ads for herpes meds to an unpaid job teaching drama at a high school in the human wasteland of Tucson, AZ. Coogan's performance as that certain brand of suicidally enthusiastic theater freak with unresolved daddy issues and a never-ending stream of babble about "craft" is spot-on. It's committed and hilarious and awesomely cringe-worthy, calling to mind the zany but weirdly true-to-life characters of Christopher Guest movies like Waiting for Guffman and A Mighty Wind.
The movie also doesn't waste your time building up or resolving a complex plot, or endeavoring to endear the characters to you through stupid emotional blackmail. In fact, the film is pretty irreverent and unmerciful toward everybody, especially its main character, who works through his extended wince of a marriage (and fairly serious insecurities) with nary a teary-eyed close-up or piano-tinged moment of forced sympathy from the audience. As a result, somewhere in there we actually start to feel a little genuine compassion for Dana (and guys like him), despite (or maybe because of) the fabulously offensive sequel to Hamlet that he produces with his students, in which he himself plays the returned Jesus Christ -- back to Earth via a time machine, rather than the Rapture. The lack of contrived touchy-feeliness also has the added bonus of letting the movie opt out of wasting precious minutes of its runtime tying up loose ends for a neatly packaged ending. The film is silly, so the ending is silly -- and I won't give it away, but it involves Elisabeth Shue, who plays a version of herself almost as delicious as Neil Patrick Harris' fictionalized caricature in Harold and Kumar. Shue never takes ecstasy and steals anybody's car, but then again, Harris never put on a cute little nurse's uniform.