“Under the right circumstances, a producer could make more money with a flop than with a hit!” With this unthinkable declaration, Leo Bloom (Matthew Broderick), the socially awkward accountant with suppressed ambitions (and mild OCD), sets the premise for “The Producers.” The film is based on Mel Brooks’ Broadway musical, which is based on Brooks’ 1968 movie. In other words, it’s a musical movie based on a hit Broadway musical about producing a Broadway musical flop.
Bloom works for Max Bialystock (Nathan Lane), a has-been producer who funds his unsuccessful stage plays with checks he pulls from spunky old ladies in exchange for some good old-fashioned flirting and role-playing. (He works wonders as the “well-hung stable boy.”) Somewhere between the singing, the dancing and the excess of gullible elderly ladies, Bloom manages to come up with a plan to cheat the system by gathering investments for a guaranteed flop, then flee with millions. The two producers team up to find the lucky script, settling on “Springtime for Hitler,” a delightful musical tribute to the fuehrer. On a rooftop, they find the writer, Franz Liebkind (Will Ferrell), a helmet-wearing Nazi enthusiast with a clan of obedient pigeons. After sporting swastikas and singing at least one musical number, the partners close the deal, unaware of the disasters that will unfold.
Following the Mel Brooks tradition, the film’s humor revolves around clumsy slapstick, over-the-top acting, bad taste and stereotyping everything in sight. Old people, blondes, flamboyant directors and pretty much everyone else look completely idiotic. The old women are senile and desperate, the attractive secretary Ulla (Uma Thurman) is a clueless airhead and the directors are flashy and oblivious. The exaggerated stereotyping isn’t especially offensive, but it isn’t especially funny either. The over-the-top humor worked in Brooks’ original movie because the ridiculousness of the characters made it charming. Unfortunately, the remake doesn’t possess its predecessor’s dated charm.
Much of the acting suffers the same fate. Gene Wilder, who portrayed Bloom in the original movie, managed to pull off the uncomfortable nature of the character and make Bloom endearing. Broderick, who somehow hasn’t aged since his Ferris Bueller days, isn’t very adorable or convincing as the mousy and bashful accountant. After seeing her as a sword-wielding man killer in “Kill Bill,” Thurman’s role as the ditzy secretary with a silly accent is far from believable. Some of the performances do manage to use Brooks’ exaggerated humor to their advantage. Ferrell’s Nazi song and dance is hilarious, as is the musical performance of Roger De Bris (Gary Beach), the lovable cross-dressing director. De Bris’ assistant director, Carmen Ghia (Roger Bart) is fabulously sly and cheeky, prompting the most laughs in the movie. But even the humor of the two directors begins to wear off after the gay bashing grows old.
Even with a running time of less than two hours, the film felt incredibly long and Bialystock’s unnecessary musical plot summary toward the end is excruciating. So bad, in fact, that it felt as if every finale was followed by at least five more musical numbers.
For those who love off-the-wall comedy combined with showy Broadway musical numbers and insane characterizations, “The Producers” is still a hit. But for the rest of us, it seems like the producers of the film were just looking to make more with a flop.