The Producers is a film that tries to go the extra mile yet comes up a bit short. Every musical number and every joke is big, over the top and I guess that's how it's supposed to be because the play I'm sure is very much the same. And that is where the problem lies. The movie attempts to duplicate the same physical comedy found in the play, one of the most successful Broadway plays ever. However, what works on stage does not necessarily work on screen. Every sequence of this film is clever, even likeable, but the flare and humor found on the stage just does not come through. I laughed in a few parts, but it was the kind of laugh that people give when something is on the fringe of being funny, almost a gentle nudge saying ‘that's almost funny enough, just go a little further.' Unfortunately, most of the times it doesn't.
Sadly, much of this failure to achieve laughs laughs must fall on the shoulders of the director, Susan Stroman, whose only other directorial attempt was a made-for-TV musical. The movie just does not click into gear at any time. The large flashy musical numbers that Stroman uses to try to get the audience involved are just not as engrossing, not as visually stimulating as those from Moulin Rouge or Chicago. And while the fast editing styles seen in those films was obviously not what Stroman was going for, most of the time it seems that the camera and its wide aspect ratio are just pointed in the vicinity of the action. The actors move around and the camera tries to follow them. The visual skill of Luhrmann or even Marshall is no where to be seen. The movie is shot like a play, except with much more expensive sets. And when I see a film adaptation of a play I don't want to see the same thing I could see on the stage. Nevertheless, Stroman's vision is in no way a disaster; it is just insufficient to keep my attention throughout the duration of the film.
And now that I have criticized and probably made the film seem much worse than it really is, I will mention some of the film's strengths. The acting for one is at least entertaining. Lane and Broderick are a quirky duo. It is nice to see Broderick in another movie; I was getting tired of remembering him in the disastrous Stepford Wives. Broderick is a quality actor, who as we find out in this film has a strong singing voice. Lane, another talented actor, belts his way from scene to scene. It is almost exhausting how much and how loud he sings. The funniest character of the bunch is Franz Liebkind, played by the often annoying Will Ferrell. Ferrell's Nazi-loving character is hilarious, producing the film's only genuinely funny moments. Uma Thurman is also scorchingly hot as Ulla, Bialystock and Bloom's secretary. The ensemble cast's talent is what makes this film enjoyable despite its often flat presentation. The rendition of Springtime for Hitler, the play within the play, is also hilarious, although it would have been funnier if Ferrell played the lead, regardless of how this would affect the story.
Despite giving this film a hard time, I would still recommend it for anyone who enjoys musicals and is a fan of the play. Just remember, that as far as musicals go, there are far better, and as far as the play goes, well, I would still rather see it on the stage. All in all, let's just say I won't be running out to see the next Stroman musical.
Now out on DVD, "The Producers" offers an inside look at the production of the "I Wanna Be a Producer" song, several deleted scenes and a variety of outtakes. Unfortunately, since the movie all but sucked, the deleted scenes are just more of the same - however, if you liked the Broadway show or this latest rendition of the movie, then you should get a kick out of seeing additional musical numbers. For the rest of us, stay clear. The outtakes are also not as funny as you'd expect. The only really interesting feature is the "Analysis of a Scene," which goes into great depth on all aspects of the sequence. Personally, I wouldn't bother buying this DVD, let alone renting it.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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