Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Review: The Producers (2005)

The Producers
135 minutes
Rated PG-13

by Scott Mendelson

The Producers, the 1968 Oscar-winning debut of Mel Brooks, is one of the funniest movies ever made. It’s a complete original; sharp, witty, charming, and utterly shocking in an innocent way. The acting by Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel is top notch, the writing is spot on, and it is and will be a classic for generations to come. The Producers, the 2005 musical remake, is based on the hit Broadway adaptation. I wish I could just cut and paste the above paragraph and substitute Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane for Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel. You have no idea how much I wish I could say that this new version honors and celebrates all that was good about Mel Brooks and his comedy classic. I wish it were so, but it isn’t…

The Producers 2.0 is a travesty, a cataclysmic flop, and a stunning miscalculation on every level. It is the worst musicals in ages, and one of the worst films of the year. It is a film so terrible that it devalues the original in a way that no remake ever has before. Gene Siskel once said that no good movie is truly depressing while every bad movie is. In a season of alleged downers such as Brokeback Mountain, Munich, The Family Stone, Rent, King Kong, and Syriana, no movie saddened me more than The Producers.

A token amount of plot - After discovering a scheme that would allow more profits from a flop show than from a hit show, rock-bottom Broadway producer Max Bialystock (Nathan Lane, badly aiming for the back rows even in close up) and cowardly accountant Leo Bloom (Matthew Broderick, also seemingly forgetting how to act for the camera after all these years on Broadway) go on a hunt for the worst play imaginable so that they can produce an instant-flop.

For starters, each and every song is nearly ten minutes long and none of them advance the plot or deepens a character. Every song is monotonous, repetitive, and useless. They repeat information we already know, after the characters have spoken said information prior and during a given song. A climactic number even spends five minutes recounting the entire story for no particular reason. Worst of all, the lyrics are witless and as banal as can be. It is rare that one watches a musical and dreads the songs. As a musical, The Producers stands proudly alongside its betters such as Grease 2 and At Long Last Love.

The original film was 85 minutes. This version runs 130 minutes and the padding shows. The biggest casualty of story expansion is Leo Bloom. Bloom was originally a cowardly loser who wanted to get rich by doing something daring and bold. In this version, Bloom sings at length about his secret dream to be a successful Broadway producer. So then why is he aligning with Bialystock who plans to produce an instant flop and end both of their careers? And the extra three new endings don’t help either.

The film also butchers much of the original’s charm. The initial office meeting between Leo and Max is one of the funniest scenes in film history, yet here it goes on and on, without a drop of comic timing to be found, just two people yelling at each other when they should be whispering. Every scene, every song, and nearly every line is completely over the top, which not only makes for an annoying cinematic experience, but kills the humor when we finally see the show that Max and Leo have been producing. In the original, the musical number in question is the punch line to an hour-long setup, and an explosive orgy of comic inappropriateness and gleeful naughtiness. Now, it’s merely another over the top song and thus is no longer special.

In the original, the play was funny because the lead actor was an atrociously bad actor and intentionally miscast. Now, the lead actor is merely ‘funny cause he’s gay’. Much of the new humor comes from ‘queenie humor’, which is shocking coming from someone as enlightened as Mel Brooks. Brooks’ Blazing Saddles (co-written by the recently deceased Richard Pryor) is still the funniest and one of the smartest films ever made about racism. In this film, producer Brooks and director Susan Stroman are laughing at gay people, not with them.

We have terrible, boring, pointless songs. We have bad writing, unfunny new jokes and botched old jokes. We have insanely over-the-top acting that completely kills any sense of human interaction. Please, rent or re-watch the 1968 classic instead.

Grade: D

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