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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead (2008)
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead is a 2009 American independent film written and directed by Jordan Galland. The film's title refers to a fictitious play-within-the-movie, which is a comic reinterpretation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and its aftermath and whose title is a reference to the play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. The cast includes Devon Aoki, John Ventimiglia, Kris Lemche, Ralph Macchio, Jeremy Sisto and Waris Ahluwalia. The film stars Jake Hoffman (son of Dustin Hoffman). An original musical score was composed and performed by Sean Lennon. Shooting began in late November, 2007, and principal photography was completed on December 23, 2007. It was filmed entirely in New York City with the Red Digital Cinema Camera, an extra-high-definition video camera. Julian Marsh (Jake Hoffman), an unemployed young lothario, is forced by his doctor dad (Chip Zien) to accept a job directing an off-Broadway play called Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead, which is described as a weird adaptation of Hamlet. The play has been written by a mysterious, pallid Romanian named Theo Horace (John Ventimiglia), a vampire who has just killed a young woman (Bijou Phillips).
Pitched somewhere between Buffy the Vampire Slayer and an Edward Burns movie, Undead focuses on New York City slacker Julian (Jake "Son of Dustin" Hoffman), who lives in a room attached to his doctor dad's office and beds an unlikely string of hot women while pining for his more responsible ex Anna (Devon Aoki). Pushed by his dad to find a job, Julian answers an ad looking for a director for an unconventional adaptation of Hamlet, titled Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead. The play within the movie, whose snippets never make much sense, is really a convoluted ploy by playwright/vampire Theo (John Ventimiglia) to score some new victims, or something. The actual plot mechanics are a little confusing, and Galland is more interested in strained wackiness than narrative cohesion.
Not that it keeps him from piling on the back story, as we learn that the real Hamlet was a vampire who discovered the cure for vampirism, and Theo is actually Horatio, who was Hamlet's vampire rival. By the time all of this becomes important, though, Galland's already gotten lost in meandering subplots and one-dimensional supporting characters, and the play's opening night, the momentous event that Theo has been orchestrating for all this time, is seriously anticlimactic.
Hoffman is affable enough as the slacker protagonist, aiming for a Judd Apatow-style man-child vibe, and Aoki proves herself to be slightly more than just eye candy as his long-suffering love. Ventimiglia, however, is seriously underwhelming as the villain, who's not menacing enough to be actually scary nor absurd enough to be particularly funny. He just kind of mopes around throughout the film and then goes out with a pathetic whimper.
The movie really peaks during its amusing animated opening credits, which promise a heavy Tim Burton vibe that Galland never delivers. Thanks to his background as a musician, Galland landed Sean Lennon to write the movie's score, and Lennon comes up with something right out of the Danny Elfman playbook, which is then paired with spooky/cute cartoon skulls representing the cast. That mix of whimsy and morbidity is what a movie like this needs, but Galland ends up with whiny angst instead.
Serious theater or Shakespeare fans will likely be turned off by the shallow engagement with the source material, and horror and/or vampire fans will be disappointed by the lack of suspense and gore. Fans of ridiculous/awesome puns, meanwhile, are advised to marvel at the title and just leave it at that.