2005: Director Susan Stroman
Rated PG-13: 134 minutes
Vault Rating: 8
Have you ever been drinking milk and something funny happens and you laugh really hard and the milk comes out your nose?
There are at least three or four of those moments in today’s updating of Mel Brooks’ 1968 classic, “The Producers.” Back then, it was Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder as Max and Leo. Today’s version is the film remake of the Broadway musical adaptation featuring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick.
Vault admits to having not seen the original, but I get the feeling I might as well have. The very funny movie simply reeks of Brooks in the same way Fellini looks other-worldly and Woody Allen tastes neurotic.
The original is considered by Roger Ebert in his superior “Great Movies” list and it also has its place in the New York Times’ “Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made.” Times critic Renata Adler called it a mixed bag even while the opening review from 1968 rang of cheerfulness. And, truth be told, while Mel Brooks can be screamingly funny, he often misses badly with his roundhouse jokes.
What is going on here, for the last three of you who’ve not in some way heard, is that Leo (Broderick), an accountant, arrives at Broadway producer Max Bialystock’s (Lane) office to do his books. Max is a colossal cad who does what he has to do for rich old ladies in order to finance his Broadway misadventures. Leo, who carries and uses his baby blanket under duress, is a soft spoken milquetoast who dreams of being a big Broadway producer.
After an introductory scene between the two that is, to put it mildly, WILDLY overacted. … In fact, it is the only way the manic pace of the scene would work. … Leo casually observes like a bolt from the blue, “Under the right circumstances, a producer could make more money with a flop than he could with a hit.”
The scheme, seized upon immediately by Max, to get more backers than needed for a show designed to close on opening night is brought to fruition when Max and Leo produce “Springtime for Hitler,” a paean to Der Fuhrer that is sure to offend. While Vault generally can’t stand Will Ferrell, his turn as the helmet- and lederhosen-wearing Neo-York Nazi playwright, Franz Liebkind, is honestly funny. When Max and Leo convince a flaming transvestite, Roger DeBris (Gary Beach), to direct, they have reason to believe they have a sure-fire flop on their hands.
The complication is that the critics love it, which sets off a new series of problems like the prospect of jail or fleeing the country. The movie dips a bit toward the end as Ferrell goes postal, but one really doesn’t notice the film going on too long.
There are also lovely distracting bits along the way; especially where it concerns the charming wares of the Swedish actress Ulla (Uma Thurman) who’s audition number, “If You Got It, Flaunt It!” gets a standing ovation. DeBris sings the slap-happy “Make It Gay!” in a mansion chock-full of castoffs from the Village People and, really, the big production number, “Springtime for Hitler,” delivers pretty well.
In fact, I’d be willing to bet (and I’ll tell you next week when the research is done) that the updated show tunes here add considerably to the original film. The stage show, after all, has been slaying Broadway audiences for quite a while now. Perhaps each incarnation of the durable script improves on the last.
Hey! You’re welcome. And so are your comments. E-mail the Vault at email@example.com and we’ll include your opinions in the next VaultMail feature. And until Mel Brooks runs out of funny … Enjoy!