Directed by Susan Stroman. Starring Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Uma Thurman, Will Ferrell, Roger Bart, Gary Beach, Jon Lovitz, Andrea Martin, Debra Monk. (2005, PG-13, 134 min.)
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Dec. 30, 2005
Oversexed octogenarians, queeny homosexuals, and obsessed Nazis all outrageously figured in Mel Brooks’ inspired 1968 comedy The Producers, a film that walked the fine line between the offensive and the funny with riotous effect. In the film version of the smash Broadway musical based on Brooks’ comic chestnut, however, the same material has little shock value by today’s standards – it’s decidedly tame, almost to the point of being quaint. (Even the film’s central set-piece, the swastika-crazy production number "Springtime for Hitler," no longer seems in bad taste.) Still, the showbiz schtick in The Producers, which is grounded in the traditions of burlesque and vaudeville, can be pretty damn hilarious at times, thanks in large part to a cast led by Lane, a skilled hambone who knows his way around a one-liner. As the unscrupulous producer Max Bialystock, Lane frantically pulls out the stops in his character’s quest to stage the worst show in Broadway history and become a millionaire in the process. His Tony-winning performance is blessedly intact here. Beach’s performance as the effete, cross-dressing director Roger De Bris is even better here than it was onstage – he camps it up to high heaven, setting back gay rights 30 years. But even these wonderfully over-the-top performances often feel constrained by first-time film director Stroman, whose inexperience behind the camera is all too apparent. While it would have been blasphemous for the film’s directorial style to take center stage in lieu of Brooks’ comedy, Stroman’s static camerawork (particularly in the musical numbers) undercuts a lot of the laughs. Sure, not every film musical these days needs to reinvent the genre in the manner of Moulin Rouge or Chicago, but Stroman’s flat and often lifeless direction does the film a disservice. Luckily, you can sit back and ignore the film’s technical deficiencies (Brooks’ own films were never stellar in that regard) and go with the nutty flow, enjoying arcane jokes about Franz Kafka novels and esoteric references to forgotten Anthony Newley musicals. In the world of Mel Brooks, everything is fair game and anything is good for a laugh. God bless Mel Brooks.