Steve Coogan has gotten a lot of mileage out of playing arrogant pricks: There's his portrayal of the smarmy Alan Partridge in the spoof British chat show Knowing Me, Knowing You with Alan Partridge; there's his loveable shyster Tony Wilson in 24 Hour Party People; there's even him playing himself in A Cock and Bull Story. There's no one funnier at playing the self-centered show business fop.
In Hamlet 2, Coogan takes that role again, but the character of Dana Marschz—yes, the name is mined for laughs—adds a new element to Coogan's repertoire: pity. Marschz is perhaps the most pathetic human being on the planet, a loser whose dreams of being an actor have given way to becoming a lousy high school theater teacher. He's so dull that his wife (Catherine Keener) begs him to start drinking again, even though he's a recovering alcoholic.
Anyway, when the school threatens to cut the drama program, Marschz writes a play and casts his rough-and-tumble students (shades of Stand and Deliver or Dangerous Minds). The play—a sequel to Shakespeare's Hamlet that features Jesus and a time machine—is astonishingly bad, but it quickly becomes a lightning rod of controversy. Hamlet 2 is appealingly off-kilter, but it feels choppy, like large segments ended up on the cutting room floor. Coogan, meanwhile, is generally very funny, but he's far better at playing a douchebag jerk than a jerked-around douche.