You can't make a movie that mocks inspirational films about teachers but turns into an inspirational film about a teacher, however goofy. Well, of course you can – otherwise, we'd have no “Hamlet 2” – but you probably shouldn't.
Director Andrew Fleming, who wrote the screenplay with Pam Brady, followed the same template in “Dick” and his remake of “The In-Laws”: He starts with a zany idea, carried out with energy and a mild sense of anarchy; then the film loses steam and settles for a conventional ending that doesn't give us a payoff.
The title refers to a musical put on by Dana Marschz (Steve Coogan, cementing his status as a guy who's funny only in British pictures). He's an Arizona drama teacher whose own life is full of melodrama: His mean-spirited wife (Catherine Keener) abuses him constantly, their boarder (David Arquette) is a dolt, his principal (Marshall Bell) has contempt for the arts, and his high school drama program is flat broke.
Dana decides to save the program and his sanity by staging his own bizarre musical version of “Hamlet,” which involves time-travel and the appearance of Jesus, who teaches everyone to forgive their enemies. (Dana has issues, mostly with his dead, disapproving dad.) The staging of the play that Dana calls “Hamlet 2” gives the movie strong forward movement, especially in the toe-tapping staging of “Rock Me, Sexy Jesus,” but this comes too late.
For every funny idea, there's a dud. The diminutive high school drama critic who talks like a New York Times scribe is a hoot. Yet the mostly Latino kids who flood Dana's class, looking for an easy grade, aren't funny or sad or touching or anything else; Fleming doesn't give them individual stories. By the time Dana's play becomes a national free-speech issue, the movie has spun out of orbit.
The most bizarre thing in it is seeing Elisabeth Shue as a version of herself. She plays a washed-up actress named Elisabeth Shue who has retired to Tucson – depicted here, bizarrely, as Hell on Earth – to become a nurse. The gag backfires, as Shue herself is indeed reduced these days to the likes of…“Hamlet 2.”