The Producers (2005)

Just as deserving of having a song and dance made of it as the original.

Released in 2005, certified UK-12A. Reviewed on 08 Jan 2006 by Scott Morris
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While the concept of a movie version of the musical version of a movie about a musical is frankly too mind boggling to focus on for any length of time, it's not the disaster I'd feared. Yes, Mel Brooks' original makes a far better film, and yes, the version presented here works far better on a stage, by all accounts, but when both the source materials are so strong it shouldn't be too surprising to find this hits far more than it misses.

The events of The Producers are more or less followed, with exuberant, failing musical producer Max Bialystock (Nathan Lane) given the idea to scam investors out of their cash by staging a massive flop by timid, wannabe musical producer, actual accountant Leo Bloom (Matthew Broderick). Locating a horrendous script from Franz Leibkind (Will Ferrell) that reads like a love letter to Hitler and a director, Roger De Bris (Gary Beach), more concerned with showing the happy side of war, there's no way they could fail to fail. Is there?

Of course there is, but more than likely you'll already have known that. If you've only seen the movie version, there's enough of a difference to make this seem like an entirely new experience, if you squint a bit. Changes in Springtime for Hitler's casting results in a smaller nucleus of characters to care about and a vastly expanded role for our heroes' secretary Ulla (Uma Thurman), which it's difficult to complain about. I'll do so anyway, as it means many of the movie's best lines have to be discarded as they're no longer relevant or don't have the correct character to say them.

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Bah. Niggles. The only major bum note this hits come in the first, ooh, quarter hour or so, with Broderick and Lane essentially repeating Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel's setup verbatim, but poorly. Thankfully things pick up once the songs begin, as you'd probably expect in a musical. Once that initial unpleasantness is out of the way the bulk of the numbers have the sublime mix of offense and amusement that's the reason the original is so highly regarded. This outing is no disgrace to it's lineage, and after they quit their poor impersonations of them early doors Broderick and Lane do well picking up the iconic roles.

Eagle-eyed readers will have noticed the mention of Will Ferrell earlier, and if your anything like us if will have brought a warm, happy glow to your heart. Even in a film full of what's best described as 'excessive vamping', his over-the-top, screaming mad lederhosen totin' Nazi reflects Kenneth Mars' commanding nutso performance of the earlier movie superbly. The whole movie, of course, is painted in stereotypes a mile wide, but even by those standards Ferrell's wide-eyed, stomping, singing Third Reicher is a high point in a film that's pretty much full of them.

Uma Thurman's okay. She looks the part, mostly and carries the tunes, mostly, but she's perhaps the weakest of the leads. Not often that can be said, but how much of that's comparative I'm not sure. Broderick, Lane and Ferrell nail their parts so hard they overshadow everything around them. Doesn't matter. The songs are top rate, the renditions hilarious and the overall effect as entertaining as ever.

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Not that something as trifling as a movie actually being fun has ever stopped people having a go at it, naturally. "It's just like they've recorded the stage version!", they say. Well, obviously. What the blazes were you expecting? "It's not very cinematic!" Well, if that was what you wanted why not just watch the original film? "But the actors don't even seem like they're in a movie! They always seem to be shouting and making vastly exaggerated movements!" Look, chummer, it's well publicised that this is a version of the stage play. You'd be far more upset if this didn't retain the character of the stage play, and it's associated techniques, because then this would just be a straight remake of the first film. "And that would be pointless, wouldn't it?" Yes. Glad you've seen sense. "And it is a lot of fun, isn't it? Come to think of it, there's really no better film suited to scenery-chewing than The Producers, isn't there? I mean, it not as if Wilder or Mostel weren't mugging gratuitously throughout and it's served them pretty well, hasn't it?" Ah. Welcome back to the fold, son. You've seen the light.

I daresay if you're examining this from some sort of technical checklist, it's nominally an absolutely rubbish film. However, we've deftly debunked your reasoning for this in the above paragraph, so if you're still clinging to this as a reason to dislike the film you're a bit silly. It's deeply amusing, resoundingly sardonic, cynical and in the worst possible taste. We love it.

I'm also proud of myself for getting through this whole review without using that horrendous invent-o-word "movical" to describe it. What? Oh, Hellfire and Damnation!

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 4/5 TippyMarks.

Susan Stroman
Cast list:
Nathan Lane (Max Bialystock)
Matthew Broderick (Leo Bloom)
Uma Thurman (Ulla)
Will Ferrell (Franz Liebkind)
Roger Bart (Carmen Ghia)
Gary Beach (Roger De Bris)