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Overall Rating
3.59

Awesome: 18.07%
Worth A Look48.19%
Average: 19.28%
Pretty Bad: 3.61%
Total Crap: 10.84%

9 reviews, 29 user ratings


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Producers, The (2005)
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Springtime for Uma!"
4 stars

When the original “The Producers” was released in 1968, many viewers were outraged by the very premise of the film–a pair of sleazy Broadway producers discover that, under the right circumstances, they can make more money with a flop than with a hit and proceed to stage a seemingly sure-fire musical disaster entitled “Springtime for Hitler”–and decried both the film and writer-director Mel Brooks as being crude and vulgar. Many critics used those same words to describe it from an aesthetic standpoint–even for a first-time director, it was a work so visually atrocious that you found it hard to believe that Brooks had ever seen a movie before getting behind the camera. And yet, the film justifiably went on to become an American comedy classic for one simple reason–it was one of the funniest movies ever made and not even Brooks’s slapdash style could hide that fact. Brooks would go on to make better-looking films (especially when he was doing a parody and had an established visual style to ape) but, with the possible exception of “Young Frankenstein,” he would never make another film that came close to inspire the non-stop hilarity that he crammed into only 90 minutes. (Then again, few others have.)

Eventually, the shock value of the film would wear off to such a degree that when Brooks reconceived the material and transformed it into a Broadway musical a few years ago, it became an enormous Tony-winning hit with the very audiences that probably would have been disgusted with it three decades earlier. Now “The Producers,” in its musical incarnation, has returned to the silver screen and watching it is an interesting experience, to say the least. On the one hand, the film, directed by Susan Stroman, making her film debut after having directed the show on Broadway, is just as aesthetically crude in its own way as the original film; there are stretches where the camera sits in one place for so long that it feels as if we are literally watching just a filmed version of the stage show. On the other hand, the basic material–much of it taken pretty much verbatim from the original film–is still so fundamentally hilarious and inspired, especially as delivered by a high-spirited cast, that I found myself laughing at it all over again.

The basic premise, for those of you who haven’t yet encountered it before (and if you haven’t, what is your problem?): Nathan Lane, in the role once made famous by Zero Mostel, is Broadway producer Max Bialystock, a once-powerful showman whose recent works have flopped so tremendously that he has been reduced to seducing little old ladies in order to finance his latest creations. (“Look at me,” he howls at one point in one of the all-time great lines of dialogue, “I’m wearing a cardboard belt!”) One day, he is visited by Leo Bloom (Matthew Broderick), a meek accountant who has been sent to deliver the books. While adding figures up, Bloom discovers that Bialystock’s latest show cost $2,000 less to produce than he raised; since it flopped, none of his investors would be expecting any return on that investment. Bloom figures that if someone tried that on a grander scale, that person could make a fortune and retire to the South Seas–assuming, of course that the show in question was guaranteed to fail and assuming that the person attempting this scam were truly venal and corrupt. “Assume away,” is Bialystock’s immediate response.

Exploiting Bloom’s secret desire to be a big-time producer, Bialystock convinces him to abandon the world of accounting to aid him in his scam. Their exhaustive search for the worst possible show eventually turns up “Springtime for Hitler,” a musical that is described by its author, escaped Nazi Franz Liebkind (Will Ferrell) as “a gay romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden.” To further ensure its failure, Bialystock and Bloom hire the flamboyantly awful director Roger De Bris (Gary Beach), as well De Bris’s “common-law assistant” Carmen Ghia (Roger Bart), to bring it to life. By casting Liebkind as Hitler and Swedish bombshell Ulla (Uma Thurman) as Eva–the latter choice is apparently based on the hope that her accent is the only part of her that is impenetrable–the show seems destined for catastrophic failure. After all, there is no way that a show combining all those elements could possibly become a hit, right?

In transforming his original Oscar-winning screenplay to the stage and back to the screen, Brooks and co-writer Thomas Meehan have kept the basic story (and much of the dialogue) but have made some structural changes beyond the addition of the musical numbers that yield mixed results. One change that doesn’t really make a lot of sense if you think about it for more than a few moments is the decision to set the story in 1959. It makes sense in that a story like this pretty much has to be a period piece–Broadway has changed so fundamentally in the ensuing decades that it wouldn’t work as a contemporary piece as the original film did and the hippie jokes would make no sense whatsoever. However, the story was a perfect fit in 1968 for a couple of reasons. For starters, Broadway was in a state of flux at the time as classically-styled musicals were falling by the wayside while upstarts like “Hair” were all the rage and it made sense that theatergoers were so desperate to seem hip that they would latch onto something as atrocious as “Springtime for Hitler” under the assumption that something that mystifying must somehow be good. There was also a seismic shift in the world of comedy going on at that point as well and the once-unthinkable idea of a film involving a pair of explicitly Jewish theatrical producers so desperate for success (of a sort) that they would stage a musical tribute to Hitler was now also cutting-edge. By backdating to 1959, these aspects no longer make sense–such a show would never have seen the light of day on Broadway and if it did, audiences of the time (a period when Lenny Bruce was still getting thrown in prison for displaying a similar sense of humor) most likely would have been repulsed instead of amused.

As for the musical numbers, the songs, for the most part, aren’t bad by any means but they aren’t particularly great either–it says a lot that for all the tunes on display here, the only particularly memorable one is still “Springtime for Hitler.” The problem with them is that Stroman has made a mistake common to most stage directors who have made the leap to film–she seems to be relying for the most part on the same choreography that was used on Broadway without realizing that stage and screen choreography are two very different beasts. When the numbers are explicitly supposed to be stage-bound, as when we see various excerpts from “Springtime for Hitler,” they work because they are supposed to be stagy. Unfortunately, that approach seems to have extended to practically all the tunes and the result is a film that often looks like a studio-based musical from the 1950's–not necessarily a bad idea but it looks here to be less of a considered aesthetic decision and more like no one involved seemed to know better. While I prefer the staging her to the lugubrious chaos of “Rent,” I found myself wishing that someone with a genuinely cinematic eye had been at the helm.

In bringing “The Producers” to the screen, Stroman and Brooks have also brought most of the original Broadway cast along, a decision that didn’t work out very well when it was done with “Rent” but which has a better pay-off here. Lane and Broderick are both quite funny here and while it could be argued that both of them have played these roles for so long that they have become a little too comfortable with them (there are even a couple of moments where Lane seems to have tossed in the kind of ad-libs that an actor will sometimes include on stage to perk up a long-running show, an effect that works in a live performance but which seems a bit jarring in the context of a film), they have developed a nice rapport and work beautifully off of each other. As the comedy relief in a full-on comedy, Beach and Bart are also quite funny as pre-Stonewall gay stereotypes that would be cringeworthy if they weren’t so carefully calibrated to be ridiculously over-the-top.

The two newcomers, on the other hand, are a mixed bag. Ferrell is funny enough as Franz Liebkind but it is the sort of ridiculousness that we have seen him do many times before and he is working under the additional handicap of being in the shadow of the truly memorable work that Kenneth Mars did in the role in the original film. As Ulla, a role greatly expanded from the original film, Uma Thurman is a genuine knockout in more ways than one. Going in, we know that she is gorgeous and that she can play comedy but who would have suspected that The Bride was a born song-and-dance-woman? Her big production number, “When You Got It, Flaunt It,” is such a stylish and sexy turn that it stops the show in the best possible way–watching it, you’ll wish you already had the DVD so that you could replay it over and over.

For Mel Brooks, who has been largely absent from Hollywood for the last decade or so, “The Producers” is a personal triumph that re-establishes him as one of the great American comedic minds while wiping away the memory of such duds as “Dracula: Dead and Loving It” and “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” for good. It is not a masterpiece that transcends its source material in the way that “King Kong” does by any means and I suspect that unless I have a desire to satisfy my Uma jones from time to time, I will probably continue to choose the original when I am in the mood to watch it. However, this version is a superior bit of silliness that has nothing more on its mind than providing viewers with two hours of shameless entertainment and to that extent, it succeeds enormously. Oh, one last thing–you should definitely stay through all of the end credits for an especially happy final surprise.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=13661&reviewer=389
originally posted: 12/16/05 16:08:19
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User Comments

4/18/07 David Pollastrini it was better on stage 3 stars
12/29/06 Jennifer Raven was this supposed to be funny or stupid? 2 stars
9/01/06 MP Bartley Gaudy, tacky, loud...and it makes no apologies about it. 4 stars
8/16/06 Kathy Wonderful casting; kept my attention and kept me laughing through the whole movie! 5 stars
8/09/06 Dragon The Artist Not too bad, 1 too many perverted 1 liners, but very amusing. 3 stars
7/12/06 David Cohen Hey Broadway, quit ripping off Hollywood. Remeber when musicals were an art in themselves? 2 stars
7/05/06 millersxing A Mel Brooks comedy is no longer water cooler conversation, but it is memorable & funny. 4 stars
6/13/06 Michael Nice review. Thought Uma was fantastic! 4 stars
6/04/06 William Goss Quite amusing, if a bit overlong. Broderick misses the mark in every other scene. 4 stars
6/03/06 San Lamar UMA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 4 stars
6/03/06 Camilla just fun stuff, with the Mel Brooks'touch 3 stars
5/24/06 Becky Hilarious!! "Listen you broken-down old queen..." Lane and Bart are genius! 5 stars
5/03/06 Littlepurch Loved the stage show, and the film is practically as good. Lane is brilliant. 5 stars
3/13/06 Roderick Cromar Neither as bad nor as good as it could have been. 3 stars
2/10/06 Vic i lasted 20 mins..i couldnt stand it it was getting on my nerves it was so badnot even 1st 1 stars
1/30/06 Laura This is really good - definatly worth a watch despite the stagy feel 4 stars
1/29/06 Maz Utter waste of 2 Hours do not see it go and instead belt yourself stupid with a cricket bat 1 stars
1/26/06 john bale Lacking some of the magic of live stage but still terrific. Uma is magic ! 5 stars
1/18/06 DARIJA VAN HOUTEN I LOVED THIS ONE 5 stars
1/13/06 Perry Mason you can't replace Willy Wonka with Ferris Bueller. no friggin' way. Just watch it for Uma 1 stars
1/11/06 Mansi Dido Ripper entertainment for all faiths!! 4 stars
1/06/06 RICHARD FABER will ferrill steals the show as the nazi 2 stars
1/01/06 KingNeutron Hilariously over the top, but Broderick could have redone a few scenes. 4 stars
12/31/05 Littlepurch AMAZING! All the cast were good but Nathan Lane was fantastic! Hilarous. Catchy songs too. 5 stars
12/29/05 DARIJA VAN HOUTEN VERY FUNNY. I LIKED IT 4 stars
12/27/05 Luis Bode The stage version on film less a few songs 5 stars
12/27/05 C D Fantastic - don't listen to the stupid critics who trash this movie. Chances are they never 5 stars
12/26/05 Jason Morris Big, brassy Broadway musical-- hilarious from start to finish 5 stars
12/22/05 MrsVoorheesBabyBoy Funnier than the original 4 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  16-Dec-2005 (PG-13)
  DVD: 16-May-2006

UK
  N/A

Australia
  12-Jan-2006


Directed by
  Susan Stroman

Written by
  Mel Brooks
  Thomas Meehan

Cast
  Nathan Lane
  Matthew Broderick
  Uma Thurman
  Will Ferrell
  Gary Beach
  Roger Bart



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