British comic BBC TV and film actor Steve Coogan starred in two movies released in 2008. Tropic Thunder was a big hit Hollywood satire that brought an Oscar nomination to Robert Downey Jr for his portrayal of a full-of-himself yet totally loopy movie star on location. Coogan played the harried film director. Trying to keep control over his cast was like trying to make cats walk in a line single file. Coogan's other comedy did not get as much attention, but it also made me laugh a lot. It's called Hamlet 2. To me, TV shows liked Glee and Smash should be a lot more Hamlet 2. I felt like I knew Steve Coogan's character. I admit it. Occasionally, I've felt like I was Steve Coogan's character. He's an actor who never made it big. A part in a national TV commercial for a herpes medication was about as good as it got for him. He wound up teaching drama in high school. In Tucson, Arizona. He directs the high school plays. His plays show us why he didn't make it big as an actor. Nonetheless, he's that example of what happens when your dreams didn't work out the way you hoped they would. He still has the dream.
The biggest comedy surprise in Hamlet 2 is Elisabeth Shue as Elisabeth Shue. She lampoons her own career. In the movie, we learn that her field of film opportunities became as dry and dusty as parts of Arizona. Her career didn't kick into high gear after her Best Actress of 1995 Oscar nomination for Leaving Las Vegas. Don't even ask about her agent. She now works as a nurse in a fertility clinic. In Tucson, Arizona.
Just like Glee, this has a gay student. But he doesn't know he's gay. Even when he's being playfully slapped in the face with a large and rather phallic balloon.
The loser actor-turned-drama teacher suffers the humiliation of his wife walking out on him. He's constantly out to prove to his students that he's not a dork.
He even gets bad reviews from the teen theater critic for the school newspaper.
The teacher reinvents himself and gets support from his students when he writes an edgy new play that combines Shakespeare and Jesus. A hip, macho Jesus. With musical numbers. This is the production that brings the tough Latino kids and white drama class kids together. Rehearsals are like West Side Story with a happy ending.
Of course, lyrics like "Rock me, Sexy Jesus" are cool with the kids but not with local conservatives. He needs legal help. Enter Amy Poehler as Cricket Feldstein. Says Cricket, "Well, this play is gonna bitch-slap Broadway like a cheap hooker at a gangbang."
The teacher will cause a big local arts controversy and find new love.
If like you TV's South Park, I think you'll like Hamlet 2. There's a young actor in Coogan's comedy whose work I really like. Joseph Julian Soria plays the teacher's main classroom heckler who also appears to be the toughest Latino thug from the 'hood in the class. Not just a heckler, he's a voice of a reason for the clueless and inept drama teacher. That poor dope is the opposite of the kind of teacher we've seen in movies from Goodbye, Mr. Chips and To Sir, With Love to Dead Poets Society and Dangerous Minds. The smart classroom heckler will wind up dancing onstage with Sexy Jesus.
On the Lifetime TV drama series, Army Wives, this young actor plays Hector Cruz.
I saw Joseph Julian Soria in Hamlet 2 and an indie movie called Tru Loved. He should do more comedies. He's got the gift. I first saw this movie at an afternoon critics screening. It wasn't very crowded. There were a lot of other black and Latino viewers at the screening. We laughed a lot. We were entertained. I watched Glee when it started. But Glee and Smash got a little too ooh-la-la for me. I can't do a steady weekly diet of those shows. If they were more like Hamlet 2, I could. When Mel Brooks was on a roll as a movie director in the 1970s with films like Young Frankenstein and High Anxiety, Steve Coogan would've been a perfect addition to Brooks' company of comic actors. For some weekend laughs, check him out in Hamlet 2. The movie is only about 90 minutes long.
Steve Coogan as high school drama teacher Dana Marschz tells one of his students: "Chuy, you're going to have a magical life. Because, no matter where you go, it's always going to be better than Tucson."