The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, January 02, 2006

The Producers (2005)

In 2004, I had the delirious experience of seeing Mel Brooks' "The Producers" on Broadway.  Although it lacked the original Matthew Broderick/Nathan Lane cast, I still laughed harder than I ever had at any play in my entire life.  Literally, it was so funny I was GRATEFUL for moments that lagged, so that my diaphraghm could recover.  When I heard that a movie was being made, the reaction was one of sheer joy.  Couldn't wait.  Well, I just saw it, and sad to say, I have to report that it just isn't very good.  The problem is, partially, the success of the original play.  By now, probably everyone knows that THE PRODUCERS tells the story of Max Bialystock, a Broadway producer, and Leo Bloom, his nebbish accountant.  Together, they determine that it is possible to make a fortune by deliberately   over-financing a flop.  They find the worst play, the worst director, the worst actors, and go for it.  And it accidentally becomes a hit.  Believe me--I'm not giving anything away.  It's the journey that counts.  The original movie, starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, is an absolute genius.  Here, the problem is that the mannerisms and directorial approach that worked so well in a stage play simply don't deliver on the screen.  Characters yell out asides as if projecting to the last row of the theater.  Broderick simply seems incapable of subtlety.  The director's imagination fails almost completely, barely reinterpreting set pieces and conversational moments, using static camera angles, and never moving beyond the artificiality of sets designed for the limitations of the stage.  She seems completely unfamiliar with the concept of film.  Frankly, it would have been far better just to film the play and release it on video, as was done with, say, "Sweeny Todd." 
But that said, Nathan Lane is an absolute gem.  In one of the few really cinematic moments in the entire film, he leads a line of little old ladies (whom he seduces into investing) into Central Park like Robert Preston in "The Music Man", and he radiates.  He genuinely projects the desperation and basic emptiness of this showboating failure, but makes us love him at the same time.  And Uma Thurmon as Ulla, the Swedish bombshell, is divine.  But overall, I smiled more than laughed, and laughed more than roared.  It almost sullies the memory of the original.  Almost.  I have to give it a "C," which is downright tragic. 

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