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Thursday, February 26, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 10.0° F  A Few Clouds
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Hamlet 2: The spoof's the thing

Something may be rotten in the state of Denmark, but that's nothing compared to the smell emanating from Tucson, Ariz., where high school drama instructor Dana Marschz (Steve Coogan) is committing his latest crime against theater, a musical sequel to Hamlet. You may recall that nobody was left standing at the end of Hamlet. No worries: Marschz, who somehow manages to pronounce every single consonant at the end of his name, has come up with a time-travel gimmick involving no less a savior than Jesus Christ. It's avant-garde theater by way of sheer ineptitude, and Coogan, who's a household name in his native England, was born to play this role. Talking a mile a minute, he gives stupidity a fierce intelligence.

When the movie opens, the drama department at West Mesa High School, which consists of Marschz and...well, that's it, just Marschz, is facing budget cuts. Only a truly spectacular end-of-trimester production can save the day. Then providence smiles in the form of a whole "gang" of Latino students assigned to Marschz's class. Can he do a Dangerous Minds number on them, get them to sing along to Mr. Holland's Opus? You bet your inspirational-teacher-movie spoof he can. And Hamlet 2, which Coogan wrote with Pam Brady, has a lot of fun with genre conventions that must leave most schoolteachers reaching for their paddles.

The movie also bears more than a passing resemblance to Waiting for Guffman, where Christopher Guest took amateur theatrics about as far as they could go. But Marschz is much more of a drama queen than Guest's Corky St. Clair, and his résumé is a little shinier. (He was an extra in an Al Jazeera TV movie.) I wouldn't go so far as to call Coogan's Marschz an original creation; he seems to have borrowed heavily from Steve Carell's high jinks on The Office, where a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. But the script's finely detailed, right down to the blink-and-you-miss-it Prickly Pear Fertility Clinic sign. And director Andrew Fleming keeps everything rolling along. Like the melancholy Dane, he knows how to put an antic disposition on.

Oh, and a shout-out to Catherine Keener as Marschz's had-it-up-to-here wife. Has any actress ever squeezed more acid out of her lines? She's corrosively hilarious.

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