A shrill and shambling attempt to bring Mel Brooks' much-loved Broadway production to the big screen, The Producers arrives feeling like a thing embalmed.
Director Susan Stroman, who also directed the popular stage version but whose filmmaking experience is limited, shoots the proceedings very much like a play, emphasizing the static, stage-bound nature of the beast, and hammering home mugging performances that might have played just fine in a live setting but fall flat on screen. Factor in routine choreography as well as a last act that goes nowhere and takes forever getting there, and you've got a less than memorable movie.
For those unfamiliar with the basic set-up, the story concerns a second-rate Broadway producer (Nathan Lane) who, upon discovering he can make more money from a sure flop than he can from a sure hit, teams up with his accountant (Matthew Broderick) to stage the worst show ever seen.
That play is a little romp entitled Springtime for Hitler, incidentally, which, though amusing enough, wasn't nearly the epitome of bad taste Brooks thought it to be even when he first conceived it back in 1968. (Frankly, it's hard to imagine anybody being particularly shocked or offended these days by a campy love letter to Nazism — and in much of the Arab World or in Europe, where Jew-bashing never really went out of style, I'm guessing a "serious" version of Springtime might just be a huge hit).
All of which is to say (albeit in somewhat tongue-in-cheek manner) that the movie now seems as dated as it is lifeless and, without the hugely magnetic presence of Zero Mostel (who starred in the original film version), Brooks' faux-Marx Brothers borscht-belt shtick sinks like a rock. Also stars Uma Thurman, Will Ferrell, Gary Beach and Richard Bart.
The Producers (PG-13) opens Dec. 23 at local theaters. 2 stars.