Having not seen the 1968 Mel Brooks comedy or his own 2001 Tony Award-winning Broadway musical adaptation, 2005's big-screen remake of "The Producers" doesn't exactly make the uninitiated feel like they've been missing out. Quite the contrary, "The Producers" is an absolute train wreck of a movie, and has arrived on the scene at the most inopportune time. The musical genre has been riding high as of late with the exuberant likes of 2001's "Moulin Rouge
," 2002's "Chicago
," 2004's "De-Lovely
," 2004's "The Phantom of the Opera
" and 2005's "Rent
." Now here comes "The Producers," which simultaneously manages to once again give cinematic musicals a negative stigma while making those aforementioned films look greater than ever before. They showed what the musical genre was all about, alive with joy and sincerity and occasional transcendence, raised even higher by often brilliantly assembled soundtracks that strengthened and deepened the stories being told.
To be fair, "The Producers" is strictly comedic in tone and rather inconsequential whereas the others dealt with more serious topics. That does not excuse it, however, for being an excruciatingly flat, lame-brained and embarrassing romp through one desperately over-the-top, unfunny scene after the next. Watching the film, which is acted so loudly and broadly by its cast that it might as well have been shot entirely on a stage, you can hardly believe your eyes at the material passing for would-be comedy, much of it of the most cobweb-infested physical variety this side of the recent "Yours, Mine and Ours
" debacle. "Rent
," another Broadway-to-motion-picture adaptation, knew precisely how to reel back the performances of its ensemble so that it fit with more ease into the medium of film--and the transformation was seamless. "The Producers," meanwhile, does the exact opposite and begins grating on the nerves in the first five minutes. It doesn't help that the songs fall into two categories: marginally catchy mediocrity and nearly unlistenable.
After his latest Broadway musical, an awful version of "Hamlet" called "Funny Boy," instantly flops, once-great producer Max Bialystock (Nathan Lane) is at a loss for how he can see a profit like he did in his glory days. Enter astute accountant Leo Bloom (Matthew Broderick), who exposes a plan so crazy it just might work: raise two million dollars for the Broadway show, make the worst, most offensive garbage imaginable, and pocket the unused money themselves when the play closes on premiere night. The source material they finally choose for their intentionally bad production is "Springtime for Hitler," written by the oddball Franz Liebkind (Will Ferrell) and billed as "a new neo-Nazi musical" concerning Adolf Hitler's rise to power and his romance with Eva Braun. Max and Leo hire people who are the most awkward fits, including swishy, effeminate director Roger De Bris (Gary Beach) and drop dead gorgeous Swedish aspiring-actress-turned-personal-secretary Ulla (Uma Thurman), and eagerly await for it to bomb as premiere night draws closer. What happens instead is a twist neither Max nor Leo could possibly predict.
"The Producers" might work okay on stage, where the experience of a live performance feeding off the audience's participation and audible reactions creates a sort of fleeting magic, but it collapses the second the same material and songs get in front of a camera. The musical numbers, unevenly sprinkled throughout (two may immediately follow each other, or be spread twenty minutes apart), are deadly dull and spiritless, and that's even with award-winning choreographer Susan Stroman sitting in the director's chair. The two exceptions are "Keep It Gay," a hilariously off-the-wall song that takes place at the home of director Roger De Bris and his "common-law assistant" Carmen Ghia (Roger Bart), and the bouncy Uma Thurman solo, "When You Got It, Flaunt It." The rest of the numbers, which are clearly trying to emulate the look and style of glitzy movie musicals from fifty years ago, are statically filmed, overlong chores to sit through, hammering home asinine information through lyrics that aren't even one-eighth as clever and amusing as they think they are.
," all but two of the main cast members from the original Broadway production have carried over to the film edition. Matthew Broderick (2004's "The Last Shot
") and Nathan Lane (2004's "Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!
") share a breezy camaraderie with each other as producer Max and accountant Leo, but their performances feel stilted and overly rehearsed. Neither has a memorable role even though they are in practically every frame. Also returning from the stage are Gary Beach and Roger Bart (2004's "The Stepford Wives
") as lovers Roger and Carmen, written as such archaic stereotypes that they surpass offensive and become silly again. Save for their introductory scene (featuring one of the only funny moments as Carmen's pronunciation of the "s" sound lingers for a ludicrous amount of time), Beach and Bart are wasted. The two actors new to the world of "The Producers" are Uma Thurman (2005's "Prime
"), having fun with a one-note character as Ulla, and Will Ferrell (2005's "Bewitched
"), as Nazi playwright Franz Liebkin. Any picture that can make even Ferrell's appearance forgettable is in serious trouble.
"The Producers" is a dreary musical, a nearly laughless comedy, and 134 minutes that are made up of 134 minutes of padding. In the place of substance and energy is a vacuous, threadbare black hole. The production design by Mark Friedberg (2005's "Broken Flowers
") and art direction by Peter Rogness (2002's "Far From Heaven
") uneasily switch between obscenely fake studio backdrops and on-location New York City shooting, the abrupt change jarring in the extreme for the viewer. The cinematography by John Bailey (2005's "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants
") and Charles Minsky (2004's "Raising Helen
") is unoriginal when it comes to shooting the song-and-dance numbers, but does hold a certain nostalgic attractiveness in its aesthetic mimicry of a Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly musical. This one compliment cannot save the day of "The Producers," easily the least dynamic and empty of all the screen musicals of the last decade. The dearth of genre inspiration would be downright insulting if the film as a whole wasn't such a trivial bust.