Director: Susan Stroman
Starring: Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Uma Thurman, Will Farrell
Review: When I was a kid, I saw an HBO presentation of Richard Harris doing a revival of Camelot. It was shot on stage, like a concert film. It rocked, if rocked is a term we want to apply to Lerner & Lowe. Within a year, I ran across the stiff cinematic version, with Harris, Burton, Vanessa Redgrave. It sucked like summer in Houston. This left me with the conclusion that if you’re gonna make a movie of a Broadway play, you should shoot it like a concert film.
Susan Stroman doesn’t do that in bringing her stage production of The Producers (back) to the big screen, but she cuts it close. She uses lot a of two-shots and long takes, so we can see the actors acting together, instead of watching multiple performances shuffled together in the editing room, and it gives the production a stagey feel. Yet the result is strangely distancing and disappointing.
It has to be said that Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick are not Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, who are perfect in the original. Broderick tries hard to duplicate Wilder’s charm and hysteria, but never quite sells either. He and Lane bring energy to the parts they had during the Broadway run of The Producers, but on film, particularly, the comparison to the original film is unavoidable. The supporting cast is strong, though. It would seem a waste to put Uma Thurman into the role of “Dumb Blonde Babe,” but it is strangely funny to say “Uma as Ulla. Ulla is Uma.”
(If Letterman couldn’t pull off a joke like that, I don’t know why I thought I could …)
Thurman is terrific and sexy as Ulla—and so much taller than Lane and Broderick that she could be Andre the Giant’s totally hot sister. Will Farrell is great as Hitler-loving playwright Franz Leibkind. What’s particularly good about Farrell is that he steps into a role well-established on the Broadway stage and in the original film, and he plays it as written, without particularly Farrellizing it.
Apart from the pulled-back direction, there’s also the times we live in. In a world with Johnny Knoxville, Paris Hilton and Trading Spouses, a Broadway musical called Springtime For Hitler seems less outrageously offensive than reassuringly quaint. Something’s clearly wrong with the world when Mel Brooks’ humor seems classic rather than edgy.
But we’re not reviewing the world. Who’s got that kind of time? The Producers has some charm, and serves as a great souvenir of a very successful Broadway show. If you’re a fan of the musical, or Brooks in general, see the movie. If not … there’s a lot of good stuff in the cineplex this month, so let it slide ’til DVD.
Blazing Saddles—This is Brooks’ funniest movie, and I’ll fight any man, woman or child who says otherwise. Pray to god it’s not coming to Broadway as a hip-hop musical starring Will Smith and Adam Sandler.
The Birdcage—Nathan Lane chews more showbiz scenery, in another remake, also with plenty of music. Woo hoo.
Moulin Rouge—All right, the only thing this has in common with The Producers is characters bursting into the song. But it’s fun, colorful and engaging to a degree that The Producers doesn’t manage.
Scrooged—We’re posting this review a week before Christmas, and Bill Murray’s take on A Christmas Carol is the best holiday movie of the last fifty years. Jesus would want you to rent this.