After becoming a Tony-winning, box-office behemoth on Broadway nearly five years ago, it was only a matter of time before the musical version of “The Producers” made the jump back to its original form: a broad, big- screen comedy.
And given how much a sensation “The Producers” was when it debuted on the Great White Way, it would only make sense to bring along most of the show’s primary talents for the jump to celluloid. Unfortunately, devoid of the stage, even all the right players can’t recapture the magic of the theater.
The film follows Max Bialystock (Nathan Lane), once one of the most successful Broadway producers around, but, after a string of misfires, has his dreams of becoming rich all but shattered. But the timid accountant Leo Bloom (Matthew Broderick) pays Max a visit and suggests that a producer can make more money with a flop than a hit, Max and Leo conspire to produce the worst musical ever, “Springtime For Hitler” – written by a Nazi (Will Ferrell). Yet problems arise fast when their musical becomes an unexpected success, and their curvy Swedish secretary (Uma Thurman) causes tension between the duo.
The film’s success hinges on director Susan Stroman (“Center Stage”), who was instrumental to the actual musical’s success. But Stroman is limited in her theatrical background and appears oblivious to the differences between film and stage in visual representation and acting. She seems content to overuse close-ups and direct most of the film on a few bland sets rather than thinking bigger and utilizing more locations. The movie also takes time to gather comedic momentum and allow the narrative to flow.
Compensating a little for Stroman’s disappointing direction are the performances. Wisely, much of the original Broadway cast returns. Lane’s bawdy and rambunctious Bialystock and Broderick’s nebbish Bloom have plenty of charm, but their chemistry – while enjoyable – doesn’t have the same magnetism it did on the stage. Also reprising their stage roles are screen newcomer Gary Beach and Roger Bart (“The Stepford Wives”), both of whom offer pitch-perfect comic timing and show complete ease on camera.
Most surprising, however, are the two established stars who steal the movie from the show’s veterans. Thurman, as secretary Ulla, nails the loopy accent and plays well off Broderick and Lane, while Will Ferrell – Nazi playwright Franz Liebkind – is a hoot. Ferrell’s is outlandish, but his mannerisms and comedic prowess create a force that rivals even Lane in sheer comic lunacy.
While “The Producers” is passable as a film, it pales in comparison to its stage version. Sadly, “The Producers” joins the ranks of recent movie-musical disappointments (“Rent,” “The Phantom Of The Opera”) and begs the question if “Chicago” – which promised the revival of a genre so long pronounced dead – was merely a fluke after all.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars