Rosencrantz and Guildernstern Are Undead (2009)

JANUARY 1, 2011


I hope this isn’t an omen for 2011 here at HMAD. While technically competent and occasionally entertaining, Rosencrantz and Guildernstern Are Undead is one of those movies that tries to be clever every single second of its runtime, which renders the characters (including the hero at times) largely intolerable and most of the humor moot after a while. I can’t laugh at a joke when I can constantly see the look of self-satisfaction on the performers (or the writer, if I knew what he looked like).

It’s also too goddamn busy. You need to know "Hamlet", but also the original "Rosencrantz and Guildernstern" play by Gilbert and Tom Stoppard’s "Rosencrantz and Guildernstern are Dead", in order to make sense out of what is going on half the time, a problem that is exacerbated when you consider that the title of the film is also the title of the play they are performing. There’s meta humor and then there’s just plain baffling nonsense, and this film is the latter. One should never be reminded of that fucking Bewitched movie with Nicole Kidman, but it’s borderline upsetting when the context is “This makes Bewitched look straightforward”, something no one should ever think about anything. Add in the “oh look at me!” attitude, and it’s almost unbearable at times.

Another issue is that the editing is atrocious (that or they didn’t film enough coverage and establishing shots/scenes). Sequences come and go out of nowhere more often than not, which is strange for a movie so built around theater – you’d think the filmmaker would try to have a similar sort of flow and rhythm instead of jumping around all of the time. Major events occur without any sort of setup – at one point two cops just show up ready to arrest someone, when it wasn’t even apparent that they were involved with this particular subplot at all, let alone all caught up to everyone else. There’s also a scene at a cemetery featuring most of our main characters (in three different groups), and writer/director Jordan Galland completely deflates any minor tension it could have achieved by constantly darting from one group to the next without any indication of how far/close they are to one another, or even what the characters are doing there in the first place.

He also made the mistake of casting Devon Aoki, a woeful actress who is best suited to playing, I dunno, a henchman’s girlfriend or some other minor role of no importance, not a romantic lead. Even if you found her to be the hottest woman in the world (and I certainly don’t), her delivery, which alternates between stiff and pouty, would have anyone wondering why our hero would want to be with her in the first place, let alone risk getting killed. I also quickly tired of Artie Bucco as the villain, who seemed to be channeling Robert Downey Jr for no discernible reason. Since he owned the theater, I kept hoping Tony would send someone to burn the place down for inane reasons.

Keeping things watchable and occasionally entertaining (besides Jeremy Sisto, who has a brief cameo and is the best thing about the movie) is Jake Hoffman as the lead character Julian*. He’s clearly taken acting cues from his father, but he’s also got a bit of Jason Schwartzman in him, so in other words he’s personable even when being kind of a jerk. He also pulls off a couple of the movie’s few genuine laughs (his intro to the play is pretty hilarious), and the scenes with his dad (not played by Dustin, sadly) are the closest the movie gets to anything resembling genuine emotion.

Unsurprisingly its horror elements are pretty light, largely confined to the two hot women vamps that do the villain’s bidding (he’s also a vampire but he barely does anything, as he, like most of the other characters, never shuts up long enough to fight or bite). And they’re all played for laughs, which is a problem since the movie isn’t particularly funny. Then again, I should point out that some folks found this movie to be hilarious, so see it and judge it for yourself. It’s well made, the digital photography looks nice (thanks to the Red One), and apart from the two actors I mentioned the performances are quite good. But the movie was primarily focused on being funny (it's essentially one of those countless and interchangeable indie movies about a guy learning to grow up thanks to what the AV Club would call a "manic pixie dream girl", but with vampires instead of the MPDG), and I just wasn’t on board with the humor.

Oddly, one of my least favorite MST3k episodes was when they watched a German production of Hamlet, and I remember being annoyed nonstop at Comic Con a couple years back with Hamlet 2 nonsense. Maybe there’s just something about "Hamlet" that turns my funny bone off? I liked the Simpsons version of it though (“Ear Poison: Do not get in eyes”).

What say you?

*Oddly, Julian is the name of one of John Lennon’s sons, the other is Sean – who scored this film. So between Sean and Jake, this is like “Overshadowed By Their Fathers: The Movie”.


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