"Springtime for Hitler" is still pretty funny. Everything else is a horror.
Made in 1967, Mel Brooks' magnificent movie "The Producers" -- about an impresario and his accountant sidekick who try to stage the worst show in the history of Broadway, in order to make a killing -- deserves a place on the short list of the greatest comedies ever made.
In a fabulous irony, it spawned a Broadway musical adaptation that became a Tony-winning smash ... and in a tragic irony, the film of that musical is an unmitigated disaster. It's so bad that it makes Chris Columbus' take on "Rent" look like ... well, like "La Bohéme."
Director Susan Stroman brings "The Producers" to the screen with crushing fealty to her New York stage production, taking every strength that the show had on stage -- big performances, splashy production numbers, our fond memories of the original film -- and turning them into grotesque liabilities.
Stroman doesn't have the slightest idea how to make the material work as a film -- she's just shot the show, with the camera locked down at footlight-level and most of the cast simply re-creating their stage performances, with mugging and gestures designed to be visible to the balcony and pauses taken for laughs that simply aren't there. The result is a kind of zombie -- a morbid, stagebound atrocity that moves and makes noise, but has no discernible life force.
Most of the Broadway cast returns to go through the motions. As the naive accountant Leo Bloom, Matthew Broderick resorts to a stiff imitation of Gene Wilder's marvelous turn in the original film -- even phonetically replicating Wilder's panic attack to the last gibbering syllable -- while Gary Beach and Roger Bart try to out-mince one another as the screaming-queen caricatures Roger de Bris and Carmen Ghia. Only Nathan Lane stays largely above the fray, somehow, either because his boisterous, desperate Max Bialystock is already a caricature, or because he knows he has the chance to be the best thing in a bad movie.
The new additions to the cast fare about the same: Will Ferrell is stiff and shrill as the psychotic playwright Franz Liebkind, but Uma Thurman is surprisingly suited to the role of secretary-actress Ulla, the one character in the show who gets to poke at the fourth wall every now and then.
But Thurman alone can't make this worth your time. At two and a quarter hours -- half again the length of Brooks' economical original -- this "Producers" is the kind of guaranteed flop Bialystock and Bloom would kill to bring to Broadway. And that's a freakin' tragedy.
Universal's enhanced-widescreen DVD just compounds the pain, with an audio commentary from Stroman that's so flatly delivered that she's got to be reading from prepared notes. (What's the opposite of naturalistic speech?)
The disc also includes a 15-minute outtake reel packed so full of flubbed lines and mugging that it's nearly as much of an endurance test as the finished film, and an additional 20 minutes of deleted scenes -- yes, this monster could have run over two and a half hours.
In lieu of a proper making-of, we get a 16-minute featurette devoted to Broderick's big musical number "I Wanna Be a Producer" -- which, as it happens, features none of the other principals, and thus removes any hope of seeing that legendary cast chemistry captured on video. It certainly didn't make it into the feature.
STUDIO: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
RELEASE DATE: May 16, 2006
TIME: 135 minutes
DVD EXTRAS:French audio dub; English, French and Spanish subtitles; audio commentary; deleted scenes; production featurette.
INTERNET SITE: theproducersmovie.com
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