The Producers
directed by Susan Stroman
(Universal, 2005)

I'm sure it came as a surprise to many that The Producers basically bombed at the box office, given the critical acclaim of the Broadway show -- especially given the fact that Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick reprised the roles they had performed before countless packed theater audiences. Sometimes a Broadway show just can't make a completely successful transition to the screen, and that seems to be what happened here. This is a good, funny movie, but it oftentimes plays like a show rather than a movie.

Most surprisingly to me, Broderick proves to be the film's weakest link; he plays every scene during the first half of the movie as if he is acting on stage, and it just doesn't work on film. If I didn't already know how talented an actor Broderick is, this would probably have had me thinking he is the worst actor I've ever seen. As far as the box office goes, you also have to factor in the fact that The Producers alienates a couple of different interest groups by openly ridiculing them in ways Hollywood really doesn't allow any more.

Even if, like me, you will probably never get a chance to see a Broadway show, you probably already know the story. You've got two producers trying to make a fortune by raising tons of money, then putting on a show so terrible it's bound to close on opening night, leaving them to enjoy the bounteous surplus riches provided by their backers. Combing through all the bad screenplays they can get their hands on, they come across a screenplay for a little gem called "Springtime for Hitler" and quickly snatch up the rights from its undeniably strange author. Then they get the worst director they can find to put the show together, all but guaranteeing audience members will walk out of the theatre before their seats get good and warm. A funny thing happens on the way to the unprecedented flop, though -- the audience actually loves the show, viewing it as mad satire rather than an ill-fated attempt to rewrite history in Hitler's favor.

If you ask me, Lane carries this movie on his back. Even during the second half of the movie, Broderick still looks as if he is consciously acting, whereas Lane basically is his character from start to finish. Uma Thurman is delightful as Ulla and Will Ferrell is his usual hilarious self as "Springtime for Hitler" writer Franz Liebkind, but these and their fellow supporting actors come and go as the movie continuously revolves around the two producers themselves.

The Producers is a smart, very funny movie (the original story, after all, did come from Mel Brooks, so you know it's going to make you laugh), but the engine that drives it just seems to skip every once and a while. I'm certainly thankful to finally get a chance to see this production that I have heard so much about, but I have to believe the actual Broadway show presented the story more effectively than the film. On a final note, let me just recommend that viewers sit through the end credits, as there's a pretty worthwhile extra tacked on at the very end.

by Daniel Jolley
14 October 2006

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