Alas, in Andrew Fleming's Hamlet 2, the laughs are wan and intermittent. There's something rotten in the state of Arizona.
A slapstick figure here and in Tropic Thunder (as the British director of the film-within-the-film), Coogan is obviously drawn to showbiz satire where the character's only frame of reference is showbiz. Which might explain why so many of the inside jokes in Hamlet 2 convulse the actors more than they do their audience.
Coogan is a resourceful comedian whose offbeat drollery gave Tristram Shandy and Happy Endings their surprising rhythms. Fleming, who made the underrated Dick and Nancy Drew, elicits a generic performance from Coogan, so desperate for laughs that he punctuates punchlines with pratfalls.
Not only Coogan's performance but everything else about Fleming's film is insistent to the point of numbness. Nothing kills comedy quicker than the nudge-nudge, wink-wink overplaying here.
Hard to tell whether Fleming, who cowrote the screenplay with Pam Brady, has come to satirically bury the inspirational teachers of the Dangerous Minds/Dead Poets Society school or to praise them. Only in its aggressively imaginative profanity is the film consistent.
Apart from David Arquette, Catherine Keener and Elisabeth Shue, none of whom is given much to do in this Coogan-centric comedy, the cast includes talented young players Marshall Bell, Melonie Diaz and Phoebe Strole.
Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog, Flickgrrl, at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/flickgrrl/