The Producers (2005)

          For some, the comedy of Mel Brooks is an acquired taste. For my
  money, he reached his pinnacle with the back-to-back gems
BLAZING
   SADDLES
and YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN back in the 1970s. Even earlier,
  he had won an Academy Award for his screenplay for the 1968 cult film
   THE PRODUCERS. When I finally saw that movie more than a decade
  after it first was released, I wasn’t impressed. By then, it seemed
  dated, particularly the hippie character portrayed by Dick Shawn and
  the mincing stereotypes of the homosexual characters. The humor was
  vulgar and crude, but some of it was funny and watching Zero Mostel
  and Gene Wilder interact was amusing. More than thirty years later,
  Brooks hit upon the idea of turning the film into a stage musical and
  the result was one of those phenomena that inexplicably hit a nerve
  with the general public.

          The Broadway incarnation of
THE PRODUCERS starred Nathan
  Lane and Matthew Broderick and became a must-see event. Prices
  were raised to an astronomical $400+ for the best seats (with some
  perks thrown in) and scalpers were getting as much as $1000 for
  tickets. The show, with a score by Brooks and a book by Brooks and
  Thomas Meehan, won an unprecedented 12 Tony® Awards and settled
  in for a seemingly long run. Although audiences dwindled somewhat
  when the original stars left, Lane and Broderick were persuaded
  to return (at reportedly record salaries) and once again,
  
THE PRODUCERS  became the hottest show in town. It would perhaps
  only be a matter of time before Hollywood would turn the project back
  into a movie.

          Brooks, who obviously had a controlling interest in the film,
  decided not to direct the musical and entrusted the film to novice
  Susan Stroman, an acclaimed stage director and choreographer.
  Stroman, who began as a chorus dancer, had worked with some of
  the major figures in late 20th Century theater, including Bob Fosse
  and Harold Prince. In her choreography, she has often been
  influenced by movie musicals and much of her staging is cinematic.
  But like her mentor Harold Prince (who stepped behind the cameras
  for two films,
SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE and A LITTLE NIGHT
    MUSIC
), Stroman as filmmaker seems to be unable to translate that
  cinematic stage technique to the big screen.

          Now, I will admit that the stage musical held little interest for
  me. A friend of mine gave me the original cast recording and the songs,
  in my humble opinion, are some of the worst ever written for the
  Broadway stage. The lyrics tend to consist of a phrase or two that
  are constantly repeated and the music is trite and uninspiring. After
  listening to the recording twice, I consigned the CD to the bottom
  shelf next to the other shows to which I rarely, if ever, listen.

  Of course, the material has been retained for the film, although
  significant changes have been made. Lane’s opening number, which
  sets up his character and which was filmed, has been inexplicably cut.
  (Speculation is that because it uses a particular four-letter word that
  it might have endangered the PG-13 rating.) The film drags terribly
  in the early scenes. It’s perhaps notable that those actors from the
  original cast (Lane, Broderick, Gary Beach, Roger Bart) all play their
  scenes as if they were still on stage projecting to the upper balconies.
  With the camera in close-up, this is deadly. There is no nuance to
  the performances, they are pitched at such a theatrical level, it
  overwhelms the material. Newcomers Will Ferrell and Uma Thurman
  fare slightly better, bringing at least a semblance of how to perform
  before the cameras. (I was so bored in the early sequences, my
  attention drifted to looking closely at the set decoration which
  includes a few “in-jokes.” For example, when Leo Bloom – Broderick’s
  character – arrives at the offices of Max Bialystock – Lane – the
  calendar reads June 16th, the date that James Joyce set
Ulysses.
  Later, I started playing a game of spotting Broadway performers
  who were cast in small parts, like Karen Ziemba as one of the
  attendees of the opening of “Funny Boy,” or Brent Barrett as one
  of Beach's entourage or Brad Oscar as a cab driver, etc. I even
  spotted Al Rodriguez, someone who used to work in the office
  across the hall from me, in one of the numbers.)

  And I haven’t even begun to deal with the gay characters stage
  director Roger DeBris (Beach) and his “common-law” assistant Carmen
  Ghia (Bart). Both are played as such mincing, overly exaggerated
  caricatures that they are degrading to gay men everywhere. These are
  the equivalent of the roles foisted on Stepin Fetchit, scenes which
  today are so insulting they rarely see the light of day. Of course,
  those with little understanding or knowledge of history will find these
  characters hysterical because they are supposed to be "post-modern."
  To that, all I can say is "Feh!"

          There will be an audience for this movie given its huge success on
  stage. Humor is obviously a personal issue. During the screening I
  attended, there was continued laughter from particular individuals.  I
  laughed only once – at Will Ferrell’s character during an audition
  sequence. Otherwise, I found the film painfully unfunny. In fact, Lane’s
  screeching and Broderick’s tics began to give me a headache.

          The movie musical has been on life support for several years,
  despite the best attempts by some to reinvigorate it. There have been
  several worthy attempts in the recent past,
CHICAGO,
    
HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH, and RENT come immediately to
  mind. There have also been a few stinkers like
BEYOND THE SEA and
  
DE-LOVELY. THE PRODUCERS clearly falls into the latter category.
  It's not exactly the death knell for the movie musical, but it sure seems
  like a warning sign.


             Rating:                       D
             MPAA Rating:              PG-13 for sexual humor and references
             Running time:             134 mins.


                       
                          Viewed at the Universal Screening Room
©  2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.