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USA 2005
Directed by
Susan Stroman
128 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Producers, The (2005)

Initially it is difficult not to compare this filmed version of the smash Broadway musical based on the 1968 Mel Brooks’ movie that was its source and find it wanting.

That film, unquestionably Brooks’ finest hour as a writer, is one of the funniest of all screen comedies thanks to the incomparable combination of Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder as two producers, Max Bialystock and Leopold Bloom, who set out to make a fortune by making a sure-fire flop. This version, although lacking that irresistible pairing, with a script reworked by Brooks with Thomas Mehan and a clutch of amusing songs by the former, is surprisingly good, although it was given a generally luke-warm critical reception when initially released.

One of the shortcomings of the original film was that although it was about the production of a musical, very little was seen of that with only one production number of note. This lack has been admirably corrected here.  With the director of the stage production, Susan Stroman, at the helm and a high quality production team,  with gorgeous costumes, sets and lighting design recalling the hey-day of MGM musicals of the 40s viewers a sense of what the theatre audience would have experienced (in this respect the film’s few exteriors are a let-down). The film struggles with its ending,however, the extrapolation of Leo's adventures with Ulla, the court scene and the staging of the prison number over-extending what otherwise is a most entertaining film. 

Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick in the roles they had in the Broadway version both base their performances on the original. In the case of Lane, who can always be relied upon for a winning performance, this works well. Broderick, however, who at the best of times is the epitome of white collar blandness, was an odd choice to take the Gene Wilder part. Nevertheless, once he drops the Wilder imitation (including the bug eyes!) he is serviceable. Equally Will Ferrell is no Kenneth Mars, but Gary Beach and Roger Bart are amusing as the world’s worst director and his gay lover and Uma Thurman makes a striking appearance as Ulla, a role much amped up from the original film.

 

 

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