Join me, fellow BBC America junkies, in singing the praises of Steve Coogan, that lizardy, poker-faced mimic who specializes (especially through his long-running character Alan Partridge) in taking fringe celebrity narcissism to new levels of squicky, squirmy bliss. Hamlet 2, Coogan's debut as an American lead, stands as an act of comedic alchemy—a slick, occasionally inspired Dangerous Minds satire that Coogan forcibly drags to a state of near brilliance. It takes real genius to be this gloriously clueless.
Sporting a flawless Yank accent and what appears to be one of Carol Channing's old wigs, Coogan is Dana Marschz, a caftan-wearing, roller-skating drama teacher who fritters away his existence dreaming of his glory days of acting in herpes ads. Facing indifference from his class and worse from his wife (Catherine Keener, at her absolute flinty-eyed Keenerest), he begins to mount a sequel to the Bard's most famous play, incorporating time travel, abortion, and a Grease 2–esque musical number starring Jesus.
Thankfully, the potential for rampant bad taste is mostly met, particularly during Coogan's repeated attempts to bond with his hilariously stereotyped gangbanger students. Unfortunately, when it comes to the titular play, director Andrew Fleming (Dick) and his cowriter Pam Brady (a South Park vet) can't quite deliver on the promise of apocalyptic wretchedness that the first two acts portend (although the time-machine-carting-around Christ is a nice touch). Still, even if the film's level of invention sputters here and there, its star is really something to see, creating a gurning, fearless portrayal of Americanus idiotus that even Chris Elliott might envy. (I can think of no higher praise.) I could try to explain why Coogan's split-second imitation of Groucho Marx is the funniest thing I've seen in, like, months, but plotzing is a real risk.