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Movie Review - The Producers

December 28th, 2005

The Producers brings Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick's stage antics (deservedly) to a wider audience. But I was left more with regrets at missing them live, than gratitude for having seen the movie.

Just in case you've been living on Mars for the past forty years, The Producers started as a Mel Brooks film starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, was adapted as a musical starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, and is now returning to the big screen, with Brooks again adapting, and Lane and Broderick reprising their roles.

It's certainly a welcome return to the big screen for Brooks. His screwball comedies remain some of the top money makers of all time, for reasons that had escaped me until now. The lame, and mostly tasteless, gags can fall flat on video, but are all part of the fun when you're watching in a large crowd. That could make the movie a minor hit this Christmas season -- there's really no other time one could imagine releasing it -- but it's not going to get great word of mouth if theaters start out empty.

Brooks script certainly covers plenty of comedic ground as Max Bialystock (Lane) and Leo Bloom (Broderick) plot to make the worst musical ever, in the hope of creating a flop and thereby pocketing all the money from their investors. Uma Thurman and Will Ferrell both get meaty roles as Ulla, Bialystock and Bloom's towering Scandinavian assistant, and Franz Liebkind, an ex-Nazi who has penned a tribute to the Fuhrer called Springtime for Hitler.

The producers pick up Liebkind's story and give it to director Carmen Ghia (Roger Bart), who, along with his over-the-top gay male friends, puts on the show.

Brooks milks this set up for all it's worth. No gag is too obvious, or too tasteless, for inclusion in what follows. The fact that it doesn't fall flat is tribute mainly to Lane, who reveals his true genius in carrying this movie, and Broderick, who shows an unexpected gift for physical comedy. Thurman, Ferrell and Bart are all game participants, hampered largely by the ridiculousness of their characters.

The film clearly draws very heavily from the stage production, with a minimal number of locations used, a very staged look, and many jokes having a decidedly theatrical feel. Most likely first time director Susan Stroman (who also directed on Broadway) didn't want to spoil the magic. I, however, was left kicking myself for not seeing the show in New York.

The Producers definitely has its place in this Christmas's line up of movies, and it has some fabulous moments that lift it well above the formulaic family films that look like beating it at the box office. Most of all, it's great to see a new Mel Brooks film. While a lot of the gags don't quite work, you never know what's going to happen next, which does make the movie fly by.

However, the obvious straight-from-the-theater feel to the movie is finally its biggest weakness, and ultimately makes it a guilty pleasure, rather than something I can out-and-out recommend.

Filed under: The Producers: The Movie Musical