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film review ***..: A Grand Old Time

...The Producers... is Reminiscent of Brooks... Golden Past

CORRECTION TO THIS ARTICLE: Because of an editing error, a Jan. 18 arts review of “The Producers” incorrectly rated the movie. It should have had 3.5 stars.

By William Andrews
STAFF WRITER

The Producers

Directed by Susan Stroman

Starring Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Uma Thurman

Rated PG-13

In Theaters Now

In recent years, a trend has started in Hollywood. It all began with a plucky little movie called “Moulin Rouge,” and when “Chicago” won Best Picture the next year, there was no doubt that musicals were once more cool. “The Producers,” Mel Brooks’ first movie in 10 years, keeps that going.

The story, of course, is legendary. Max Bialystock is a has-been Broadway producer at the pits of his downfall; Leo Bloom is the buttoned-down accountant who inadvertently hatches a scheme for making millions of dollars. If the producers of a show ensure that it will be a flop, they can keep all the investors’ money not already spent, since no one expects returns on a closed show. After some crazy rigmarole, the two decide to do it, vowing to find the worst script, the worst director, and the worst actors to ensure they can keep the $2 million they’ll raise.

But for once, the story isn’t the main issue here. As any bona fide nerd can tell you, the movie is based on a musical play which was itself based on a classic Mel Brooks movie, all of the same name, and the same plot. But the vast majority of the songs were written by Mel Brooks for the show only recently, except, of course, “Springtime for Hitler,” which was in the original. Like I said though, we should all know that already.

So what don’t we know? Well, for starters, this movie rocks! It’s hilarious, making me long for the days before my birth when Brooks had a new movie out every couple of years. Nathan Lane as Max and Matthew Broderick as Leo are sure fits, probably because they originated the Broadway roles. They both seem to exult in their characters, making already funny lines hilarious, and already crazy situations even crazier. In fact, they both seem to be a little too into it, most likely slipping into their old (and too big for film) stage presences; try to contemplate, for instance, the fact that Broderick’s Bloom makes Gene Wilder’s seem subtle. It’s not enough to detract from the experience, though, so I say enjoy all that extra bang for your buck.

The supporting cast of Uma Thurman, Will Ferrell, Roger Bart, and Gary Beach (whose Hitler alone is worth the admission price), was also great. While it seems that every character is zanier than the previous, it’s good to see that they still know their places, and never ham it up or steal the scene when they shouldn’t. And let’s not forget that Brooks nails the same two-second cameo he had the first time around.

The writing is excellent — expected jokes, unexpected jokes, weird jokes: this movie’s full of all kinds of funny. And the songs! Oh, the songs. While not the most lyrical or complex of melodic structures, every single song has really clever lyrics (and not just Mancini clever, we’re talking Cole Porter clever), fits the style of the scene, and is fun to listen to as well. At times sanguinely innocent, at others cheerfully self-aware (“why did you go camera right?”), they’re always fun, and the whole cast knows it.

Since I didn’t give it four stars I must have found something wrong, and it’s this: for a lot of the time, it didn’t feel like a film. It didn’t feel like a Broadway show either, it felt like a film trying to remind you it was once a show. Maybe this was intentional, but I don’t know why. Sure, it’s nice to give a nod to the film’s history (and many other films and musicals, for that matter), but if it looks like you’re actually using the show’s sets when you have movie resources at your disposal, that’s going a bit too far.

Still, I might see it again in a theater, and I know I’ll see it when it comes to LSC. I mean, heck, there’s hot girls, funny songs, goofy jokes, and not one but two flamingly flamboyant characters. What more could fans of musicals ask for?