A big hit at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival Hamlet 2 often careens out of control but when it connects the theatre fills with laughter. This is a story of a very frustrated high school drama teacher Dana Marschz (Steve Coogan) who decides to stage his own play--a musical sequel to Hamlet featuring original songs he has composed (titles like “Rock Me Sexy Jesus” and “Gay As the Day Is Long”). Yes he’s aware everyone died at the end of Shakespeare’s immortal classic but the failed actor-turned-teacher has found a way to bring them back to life by using a time machine(!) In any event he’s desperate to save the Tucson school’s arts program which is being cut and he thinks this is the answer. Certainly it’s better he figures than his usual productions which have the students re-enacting live stage versions of popular movies such as Erin Brockovich that are regularly panned by the ninth-grade drama critic. Of course the non-PC nature of the show causes lots of outrage from school officials and community leaders but with the help of ACLU attorney Cricket Feldstein (Amy Poehler) Dana remains steadfast in his determination to go on with the show. Coogan is brilliantly loony and wildly funny in a hit-for-the-fences interpretation of the character. He’s definitely taking chances turning off the audience with his off-the-wall approach to playing this desperate loser who has to resort to teaching bored kids. It’s Coogan’s energy and fresh approach that make the movie work better than it has any right to. Poehler who also scored recently in Baby Mama is hilarious as the take-no-prisoners lawyer who comes to Dana’s defense. Catherine Keener is droll perfection as his bored wife who is having an affair with their boarder Gary underplayed nicely by David Arquette. In the good sport category Elisabeth Shue turns up as…Elisabeth Shue now a local nurse after her movie career supposedly hit the skids. She’s actually very funny spoofing herself and the whole aura of the successful Hollywood star. The students are all first rate including Dana’s star pupils Rand Posin and Epiphany Sellers played amusingly by Broadway’s Spring Awakening cast members Skylar Astin and Phoebe Strole respectively. And special mention to The Ralph Sall Experience for their hilarious musical parodies. Director Andrew Fleming lets the gags fly with abandon and gets much of the broad bits to actually work. He and screenwriter Pam Brady forge a close collaboration that results in a pretty good hit-to-miss ratio on the laugh meter; anyone expecting subtlety has wandered into the wrong theatre. Working with a wonderful group of actors with plenty of improvisational experience certainly has helped here and Fleming’s film has the look and feel of a by-the-seat-of-your-pants experience. The actual staging of Hamlet 2 is rather inspired with the multitude of wacky musical numbers cleverly presented. The Southwestern high school that Coogan’s character is stuck in is spot-on although Tucson residents probably won’t appreciate the numerous jokes made at the expense of their town.
Our fair maiden Sydney (Amanda Bynes) doesn’t have coal-black hair or sing with a sweet voice or have woodland creatures following her around. Instead the tomboy grew up on construction sites with her widower dad (John Schneider) a plumber who guided Syd as best he could. But now the time has come for the gorgeous freshman to head to Southern Atlantic University to pledge her late mom’s once-dignified sorority where she meets this story’s version of the Wicked Queen: the vain and evil Rachel (Sara Paxton) president of the sorority. Let’s just say Sydney does not fit in and Rachel sends the soon-to-be fairest of them all to the curb. Luckily there’s a condemned frat house right next door with seven very socially challenged guys--each with a familiar "Dwarf"-like quality. They take Sydney in and soon with the help of one love-struck frat boy named Tyler Prince (Matthew Long) she and the seven doofuses campaign to take over the student government—and push out the Greek system that has ruled for too long. Tween sensation Amanda Bynes knows exactly where her bread is buttered. With star vehicles such as What a Girl Wants She's the Man and now Sydney White the comic actress keeps playing slightly different versions of the same character: a pretty if goofy and klutzy young woman whose vivaciousness usually changes everything for the better. And whether her fluff movies grate or not you can’t fault Bynes who clearly knows what works for her. Paxton (Aquamarine) is perfectly predictable as the mean girl as is Long as the Prince. But the seven guys playing the nerds do a nice job of reinventing their dwarfishness be it sneeziness sleepiness bashfulness dopeyness—you know the rest. The only dork who didn’t quite mesh with his inner-“Dwarf” was the one called Spanky (Samm Levine) who is more horny than “Happy.” I guess in the fairytale there really isn’t a Lusty dwarf even though you’d think at some point at least one of them must have had a few untoward thoughts about Snow White. They were little but still men. We’ve seen countless Cinderella redos but for a modern retelling of the classic fairy Snow White Sydney White isn’t half-bad--there it’s been said. It's got all the trappings of a college comedy but some of it works. Don’t however give credit to director Joe Nussbaum whose only other movies include the dud Sleepover and the direct-to-DVD American Pie Presents: The Naked Mile. He pretty much directs by the numbers. No it’s first-time screenwriter Chad Creasey who is the clever one. For example the poisoned apple is translated into a virus sent to Sydney’s Mac laptop. And when the dorky seven march in a line past Rachel and her crew holding picket signs one of the guys says “Hi ho!” For a film as pedestrian as Sydney White laughing out loud even once means something. It’s certainly not going to wow anyone besides girls ages 8-14 but Sydney White will make the perfect third in the Amanda Bynes comedy DVD set.