NEW AT THE MOVIES: Something rotten in Tucson
Courtesy of Focus Features, Steve Coogan (center) and Skylar Astin (right) star in "Hamlet 2," a film about a Tucson high school's awful musical based on Shakespeare's heady drama.

R for language including sexual references, brief nudity and some drug content. 92 min. Two stars out of four.

The play’s the thing in “Hamlet 2.” It’s just about the only thing that makes this intentionally cringe-inducing theatrical parody worth watching.

Sure, Steve Coogan has his hilarious moments as a delusional drama coach struggling to save the arts program at a Tucson high school, but that’s all there is in the movie: moments.

By now we know the British comic is capable of grabbing hold of a character and never letting go (see: Alan Partridge), so his commitment to playing the arrogant-but-pathetic former actor Dana Marschz is without question. But the material director Andrew Fleming (“Dick”) and co-writer Pam Brady (“Team America: World Police”) give him is hit-and-miss, at best.

A lot of it was probably funnier in the conceptual stage than in the actual execution.

In between the individually funny parts, though, is a great morass of redundant, one-note slog, which we must endure while we wait for Dana’s wild, wonderfully campy production, “Hamlet 2.” It’s a musical he hopes will revive not just the school’s drama program but his life, both professionally and personally. To call him a has-been would be charitable; he’s more like a never-was. This would, in theory, engender some sympathy for him, but Dana tends to be too obnoxiously self-possessed to deserve it.

Catherine Keener co-stars as his disdainful wife, with Amy Poehler playing the ACLU lawyer who fights to keep the totally inappropriate production — and its jaunty, 1950s-style ditty, “Rock Me Sexy Jesus” — from being shut down.


Rated PG-13 for intense violent sequences, thematic material and brief language. Running time: 112 minutes. Two stars out of four.

“Traitor” is the kind of movie so many of us yearn to see: It’s intense and intelligent, has something to say without being pedantic and presents complicated issues without condescending.

It even boasts a solid cast, led by Don Cheadle and including Guy Pearce and Jeff Daniels.

So why does this film feel more than a bit off?

Perhaps because “Traitor” aims to be equal parts explosive action picture and serious-minded character drama, it never completely hits the mark in either regard. But through Cheadle’s Samir Horn, “Traitor” does take the admirable step of trying to understand and explain the philosophy of Islamic extremism.

Samir is a former U.S. special operations officer whose Muslim faith has led him down some violent paths. As a child in Sudan, he watched his father die in a car blast; after growing up in the Chicago projects and joining the military, he now finds himself selling bomb detonators to Yemenis.

Cheadle is, of course, as smart and nuanced as ever, and it’s intriguing to see him play the role of a bad guy for once, or at least a flawed protagonist. But he might actually be too subtle for his own good.

In a parallel plot line, Pearce co-stars as Roy Clayton, a low-key FBI agent with a smooth Southern drawl who is calmly trying to track Samir down, even as bombings around the world continue to create chaos and carnage. He and his partner, Agent Max Archer (Neal McDonough as thuggish bad-cop) initially find Samir in a Yemeni prison and interrogate him. Then they lose him again when he escapes with fellow inmate Omar (the quietly intimidating Said Taghmaoui), a Swiss-educated fundamentalist who believes just as firmly in his cause as Samir does in his religion — a dynamic they recognize in each other, which quickly binds them.

And yet the cat-and-mouse game continues with Samir continuing to prove his elusiveness, even as Homeland Security steps up its screenings and alerts with the threat of a major attack planned for Thanksgiving Day in the United States. All of it certainly seems relevant, resonant, even plausible — but that doesn’t necessarily mean that anyone will want to watch it.

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