Producers, The

January 12th, 2006 Film, Film Reviews, Xpress

If you needed any more proof that originality is dead in Hollywood, just look at The Producers. Never mind the sequels, the remakes, the remakes of remakes and the ‘reimaginings’ of remakes. This is a movie based on a play based on a movie about a play.

One-time comic genius Mel Brooks wrote and directed the film version in 1968, starring longtime collaborator Gene Wilder and kicking off the much loved career that bought us Blazing Saddles, Silent Movie, High Anxiety and Young Frankenstein.

Stage choreographer Susan Stroman turned the script into a smash on Broadway, and screen stars Broderick and Lane breathed life into heroes Bialystock and Bloom for almost five years. Now they’re appearing in the screen version of their own stage version. Confused yet? Don’t worry, the plot won’t make it any easier for you.

But for the same reason you didn’t love Blazing Saddles for the high art, if it’s plain laughs you’re after, The Producers will oblige.

A roaring forties-style romp of singing, dancing and chicanery, it tells the story of a failed Broadway producer and a spineless accountant who team up to pull off the ultimate scam — to put on the worst show in history and make off with the investors’ loot.

They choose what Bialystock (Lane) calls the ‘mother lode’ in Springtime for Hitler, a chorus line tribute to a beloved Fuehrer written by pathologically crazed Nazi, Franz (Ferrell at his usual whirlwind best). They hire impossibly tall and beautiful Swede Ula to act in the show, answer the phones or just sit around — they don’t care what, really. And they hire a director and production team straight out of the Carry On era where crass homosexual stereotypes used to be funny.

And so the show goes on. And on’ and on’ Despite the laughs, The Producers starts to feel a little torturous. And if you don’t like musicals, you’ll think you’re being held at the hands of US soldiers at Abu Gharib prison when yet another song (of increasing irrelevance to the plot) breaks out.

Thurman is a world away from the one-woman army of Kill Bill, and plays her beauty up to the nth degree as the Swedish vixen that captivates both men. Lane’s energy is infectious and he is a talented comic no matter how cheesy or slapstick the material.

It’s Broderick who looks like he’s perpetually embarrassed by a career that’s never held a torch to Ferris Bueller. He looks forced every step, and it’s while it’s true the role of a straight-laced accountant might call for that, but think back and you’ll realise he’s been no different in any film for the last 20 years. So devoid of charisma and pluck, you wonder how he played to a theatre full of people for so long.

While not a film director, Stroman translates the play faithfully to the screen. In fact if anything it’s a little too faithful, the whole thing feeling very stagey, the scenes overlong and comprising nothing but dense dialogue and musical numbers.

But you can’t accuse her of not adhering to the source material, and after translating it back and forth between two mediums at least three times over 35 years, that’s quite a feat.

More Robin Hood, Men in Tights than Les Miserables, but at least you’ll groan with a little laughter at the obtuse gags as well as the interminable (often talent-free) song and dance numbers.


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