MOVIE REVIEW- No prickly pear: 'Hamlet 2' rivals 'Thunder' for hoots

a still from this week's filmWhere to begin a review of Hamlet 2 but with the final words of Hamlet 1, as it shall evermore be known:

Take up the bodies. – Such a sight as this

Becomes the field, but here shows much amiss.

Go, bid the soldiers shoot.

Steve Warren

Not since Tropic Thunder has there been such a funny movie. Admittedly that's only been a few days, but Thunder set the bar high. Hamlet 2 was probably made for a fraction of that film's sunscreen budget, and it looks it, but it's a close rival for laughs per minute.

The two comedies also share Steve Coogan, who moves to the leading role here and suggests he could be the new Gene Wilder. He plays Dana Marschz (the name is pronounced like phonetic Polish– backwards), a failed actor currently teaching drama at West Mesa High School in Tucson, a city that comes in for more jibes ("where dreams go to die") than even Tucson deserves.

Budget cuts bring good news– Dana suddenly has a full class because all the other electives have been cancelled– followed by bad news– drama will be cancelled after this trimester.

In the new class Latins (including Melonie Diaz, Joseph Julian Soria and Michael Esparza) outnumber Dana's whitebread stalwarts, closeted Rand (Skylar Astin) and Epiphany (Phoebe Strole), who feels "threatened by ethnics."

As any lover of old movies knows, one good show can save any institution from the scrapheap, bulldozer or whatever. Dana pulls out all the stops with an original musical, Hamlet 2, in which Hamlet goes back in a time machine to prevent all the deaths at the end of his play. The machine also brings in such disparate characters as Jesus Christ and Dick Cheney. Jesus, who kicks Satan's butt and moonwalks on water, is the centerpiece of the song, "Rock Me, Sexy Jesus."

When the principal (Marshall Bell) refuses to let the show go on, it moves off-campus and attracts the attention of the ACLU, in the person of Cricket Feldstein (Amy Poehler, who keeps getting better). Protests attract publicity, and much of Tucson rallies to help the production, including the Gay Men's Chorus providing musical accompaniment.

While all this is going on, Dana's wife, Brie (Catherine Keener), is trying to get pregnant, which leads Dana to wear all sorts of outrageous clothing (or none) to let his testicles breathe. There are no prizes for guessing where the situation with their boarder, Gary (severely underused David Arquette) will lead.

One of the movie's most delightfully off-the-wall aspects is the appearance of Elisabeth Shue playing a version of herself. She's introduced working as a nurse at the Prickly Pear Fertility Clinic because she got tired of acting, and keeps showing up in wonderful ways.

Director Andrew Fleming (Threesome, Dick, The Craft) redeems himself for the dreadful Nancy Drew. He co-wrote Hamlet 2 with Pam Brady, the only woman with significant creative input into South Park. You can bet she was responsible for Yolanda, who's almost a female version of Kenny.

You can get picky about continuity issues, the overall cheap look and other problems, but what do you want– good production values or bad taste?