Dana Marschz (Coogan) is a failed actor-turned-high school drama teacher. When his department threatens to become a victim of budget cuts he creates a musical sequel to Hamlet that soon has the community and the school board on his back
Given that the zenith of his acting career is as one half of a dazzlingly happy, herpes-ridden couple in a late-night TV ad, it’s no wonder that Dana Marschz is riddled with self-loathing in his latter-day role as a drama teacher for an uninterested student body somewhere under the blazing Tucson sky. As egotistical as he is misguided — he brings new meaning to the phrase ‘delusions of grandeur’ — his home-life is in as much disarray as his career, but he’s equally oblivious to both.
Steve Coogan plays Marschz with breathless gusto (and an impeccable American accent) that appears to verge on near hysteria with every scene, though his desperation to somehow connect with his students has you rooting for him from the very beginning. Finally undone by his wife
(a cold-eyed Catherine Keener) and the school administrators, Marschz sets his heart on creating a rock-musical sequel to Hamlet. His twitchy, perspiring demeanour tells you that it’s his one last roll of the dice. Blinded by his own artistry — well, what little there is of it — Dana creates a
text that features a time machine to bring the Dane back so that he can save himself and everyone else in Shakespeare’s play. That’s only the starting point for a production that boasts Jesus Christ on a wire, Star Wars and Dana’s conflicted history with his own father. It also features two of the film’s highlights, the jaw-dropping musical numbers Raped In The Face and Rock Me Sexy Jesus.
Energetic, daft and scattergun in its approach (it levels pot-shots at
almost every social group and even pushes Elisabeth Shue — who appears
as herself — around a little), it’s still a surprise that it was such a highly bid-for discovery at Sundance. The film’s uneven, none of the students stand out no matter how much they’re shoe-horned into the script and Keener’s part is so slight that it’s not much more than a cameo. Strangely, though, the final show itself is oddly warming and the upbeat ending where Marschz’s heartfelt belief endures is not as mawkish as it might have been. It’s Steve Coogan’s vehicle though, and one he rides all the way home.
A satirical, slapstick affair that occasionally feels like it was thrown together and therefore never quite becomes the sum of its parts.