Broadway choreographer-turned-director Susan Stroman's garish adaptation of the monumentally successful musical, which brings Mel Brooks' 1968 film full circle, can be counted an unequivocal triumph on one level: It faithfully reproduces the experience of seeing a stage production from the front row, where dripping sweat, mucky makeup and clouds of saliva...read more
Broadway choreographer-turned-director Susan Stroman's garish adaptation of the monumentally successful musical, which brings Mel Brooks' 1968 film full circle, can be counted an unequivocal triumph on one level: It faithfully reproduces the experience of seeing a stage production from the front row, where dripping sweat, mucky makeup and clouds of saliva spray make the most glorious theatrical fantasy look tatty. Washed-up impresario Max Bialystock (Nathan Lane) is on his last legs: "Funny Boy," a musical comedy version of Hamlet, just closed on opening night, and he's in no mood to coddle officious accountant Leo Bloom (Matthew Broderick), who's auditing the none-too-scrupulous books. But Leo's innocent observation that a Broadway flop could actually make a producer richer than a hit inspires Max: If it were sufficiently overcapitalized and closed quickly enough, Max muses, a world-class stinker could rescue him from a future of prostituting himself to frisky old ladies whose libidos have outlived everything but their checkbooks. Leo, a nervous Nellie who clings to a scrap of shabby blanket when his nerves get the better of him — which is often — wants no part of such scheming, but the thought of spending the rest of his life crunching numbers eventually outweighs his fear of going to prison. Max and Leo's search for the worst script ever turns up "Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden," a musical by unrepentant Nazi Franz Liebkind (Will Ferrell). They recruit campy director Roger DeBris (Michael Ocean) — who comes complete with mincing assistant Carmen Ghia (Roger Bart) and a Village People-like entourage of collaborators — to bring out the worst in the script, and they hire an aspiring actress (Uma Thurman) whose assets aren't verbal. But the ensuing disaster isn't the one they expected. Whatever you think of previous incarnations of THE PRODUCERS, "Springtime for Hitler," with its limp-wristed Fuhrer, goose-stepping chorus boys and leggy showgirls bedecked with sausages and soft pretzels, is funny enough to compensate for a lot of tired shtick. The show made Lane and Broderick the toast of Broadway and earned Stroman a Tony, but the film is a lumbering throwback to the stagiest days of movie musicals. Static long shots and minimal editing were fine when Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers danced cheek to cheek and Busby Berkeley was transforming dozens of half-naked chorus girls into kaleidoscopic abstractions, but THE PRODUCERS is more about mugging and pratfalls than choreography, and performances that play to the back of the house are cringe-making on screen. The film falls short even as a record of Broderick and Lane's crowd-pleasing rapport: Both have done the show so many times that every scrap of life is gone.