By Christian DiMartino
Mel Brooks’ The Producers is a wonderful classic. Made in 1967, Brooks won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, and with good reason. It’s a great premise, brought to life by Brooks and his two stars, Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel. As time went on, The Producers went on to be a remake on Broadway for decades, and was eventually turned into a musical. Said musical was also turned into a major motion picture. Having not seen it on Broadway, well, it’s safe to say that maybe it worked best on Broadway.
Susan Stroman’s big screen musical adaptation of The Producers has left… well, not much of an impact over the years. It earned 4 Golden Globe nominations when it was released, but otherwise, nobody, besides yours truly, is talking about it. Its critical reception was either, “eh, that was fine” to “good lord, make it stop.” Well, actually, maybe the latter was just how this reviewer felt.
Good lord, make it stop. To be frank, The Producers was a rather difficult film to sit through. So much so that it took me over a week to get through it. Not because it’s too long (it is, but it isn’t, but it is), but because not only did stuff keep getting in the way, but also because there wasn’t really a rush to return to it. Watching it, it’s easy to long for the rather brilliant simplicity of the original, because this film is big and flashy and spectacular… and also annoying, bombastic, and quite overdone. No, no, no, very overdone.
From its opening minutes, this film didn’t feel right. Perhaps it’s because I was unaware that it was a musical, but also, some musicals just don’t feel right on screen. As someone who, guilty, enjoys Mamma Mia!, it must also be said that some of it gives off a cheesy movie-fakery vibe, but it’s also just enough fun to get by. The Producers gives off the cheesy movie-fakery vibe… the entire movie, and boy, is it difficult.
The original premise remains intact. Max Bialystock (Nathan Lane) is of course the 1950’s playwright who has been bombing for years. Soon, with the help of friend and aspiring producer Leo Bloom (Matthew Broderick), they hatch an interesting but potentially successful get rich quick scheme: Max will produce a play so horrendous that everyone will feel the urge to see it, to believe it. Gee, maybe this was Stroman’s motto too.
Said play is called Springtime with Hitler, written by Franz Liebkind (Will Ferrell) a former Nazi who owns Nazi pigeons. They receive his blessing, and soon the play begins production. Complications do occur though, and they come in the form of a beautiful German actress named Ulla (Uma Thurman). As you can guess, the two begin competing for her.
So, perhaps it’s because the original exists, but immediately it’s easy to tell that The Producers shouldn’t have been a musical. In my eyes, it takes a simple but clever story and it drags it out and blows it up. Having said that, it would be another story if the songs were good enough. They aren’t. It would also help if the material were funnier. The groundwork was laid out for them in 1967, so, what’s the issue?
The issue ultimately comes down to the delivery, and that is what sinks this film. Every performance here is so over the top, every actor is overdoing it so much, that they’re not just turning it up to 11, they’re turning it up to 13, which, as you know, is unlucky. The whole production is overdone, but its performances are especially overdone. As a fan of Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, it pains me to say that they… are not good here. Lane fairs better than Broderick though. Broderick is… pretty bad in this, trying way, way, too hard. Thurman is kind of fun, and honestly, at about the 40 minute mark, Ferrell provided the first laugh. So, that’s something.
This version of The Producers is, simply, not my thing, and a big chore to sit through. If this is your kind of thing, that’s great, don’t let me piss all over the… parade? As for me, I’d rather get attacked by Ferrell’s Nazi birds than sit through this again any time soon.