the producers (2005)
I'm not exactly sure what I was expecting when I sat down in the theater on this, the first day of 2006 (happy new year, by the way), and got ready to enjoy the musical hilarity of The Producers. I guess I was expecting ... musical hilarity. However, the film, which was directed by first-timer Susan Stroman, is anything but. As the film's main character exclaims at the top of his lungs, "where did we go right?!", I sit in the audience wondering "where did they go wrong?!". The answer is; nowhere. This film started off bad, continued bad and ended bad, with a glimmer here and there of mildly amusing moments; saying it went wrong would imply that at some point it was going right. I'm actually pretty surprised that it turned out this way; the film's trailer looked promising and I've heard nothing but good things about the broadway show. This was my first time seeing it in any incarnation, stage or screen, and I have to say I'm not impressed.
However, I may be painting an unfair picture of the film, it's not quite as bad as all that, but it's pretty bad. It's problem lies more in the fundamentals than anything else, and one fatal flaw ends up ruining the entire picture. Simply put, what works in a broadway show does not work in a film. Stroman was the director of the show while it was on broadway and the familiarity she has with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick is apparent onscreen. She seems unable to break away from the stage choreography and blocking and translate them into something that will look good on film. Her awkward sense of where to frame the picture ends up either cutting off the tops of the actors' heads, or feet. It's frustrating to watch because it just looks wrong. If you're going to leave the top of the frame so close to your actors' heads, then take the part where they jump up and down out of the script. On stage, you don't need to worry about these things. The story, while employing a basic plot that sounds hilarious, actually ends up not being funny in the least. The humor's main problem lies in that it seems to take pride in being very edgy and offensive. Well, shock humor that worked 40 years ago, sadly, does not leave much of an impact today. The film is stuck relying on jokes that have simply lost their edge. I'm not so sure that our generation really finds much humor in the idea of a play about Nazis and Hitler; it was kind of funny, but the events of World War II are practically ancient history. Had the film decided to update to a play involving terrorists and/or September 11th, the shock value would have at least been returned (though it's too soon after 9/11 to do something like that, but in 10 - 15 years it will be fair game). The humor's next flaw is that it is just freakin' repetitive. The film points out to us, with all the subtlety of a sledge hammer, that the characters onscreen are gay/foreign/old, and then proceeds to drill the same joke about it into our skulls for the next 20 minutes; WE GET IT! Costume designers and choreographers are gay! foreigners have long names and funny accents! old people are old and use walkers! this movie is hilarious!! No, it actually isn't. When they're not playing off of those three ever-hilarious archetypes, the rest of the humor involves the characters making funny faces, running into things, and falling. Yes, I'm all for screwball comedies, but it's annoying here. I'll admit I laughed alot when Matthew Broderick first took out his baby blanket and acted like a buffoon, but after the 15th time the joke lost its luster.
Alright, so I've torn it apart enough, now its time to cut it some slack and name off a few things I liked about the film. As is expected, the production design is great. All of the sets and costumes are top notch, but most likely because they are based on the sets for the actual show. Matthew Broderick's office building (where John Lovitz makes an awesome cameo) is a great set, complete with filing cabinets that fold out into stairs. The movie has a great look, I'm betting these would be fun sets to be on it's too bad Stroman couldn't shoot them correctly. I give all of the people who worked on building and designing the sets alot of credit though, they're the high point of the film. Broderick and Lane have great comedic chemistry, but most of the things they did, things that would be funny if I saw it on stage, just didn't work in a film environment. Will Ferrel, who is usually the high point of any film he's in, doesn't do much in this one; his presence adds virtually nothing to the film. However, I give him credit for not playing the role in a "Will Ferrel" type of way; he puts aside his usual gags and sticks to making himself work in the role, instead of making the role fit him. However, besides the sets and the fun of seeing a few good actors look like they're having fun, the film is a mess. It's length is inexcusable, clocking in around 2 hours and 15 minutes. This is a story that could have easily been a good hour and 1/2 had they cut down the annoyingly pointless musical numbers which seem to go on forever. Part of my dislike for the film may be my overall dislike for movie-musicals all together. I find that every now and then a good one is made, but mostly I find musicals to be irritating because every 15 - 20 minutes or so all plot developments must cease so that the characters can embark on another dance number. However, this is obviously unavoidable, so I can't blame this film for it. overall, I was just bored. None of the songs seemed like they were really that good, the dances were well-choreographed though. The best dance number was probably Uma Thurman's intro song; it's too bad that after the song she ended up being such a dumb character. Each time a new character would arrive on screen (Will Ferrel, Uma Thurman, etc.) it would appear that their presence would spice up the dragging film and make it work, but each time I was disappointed. In Will Ferrel's dance number on the roof I actually found it more amusing to watch the fake animatronic pigeons in the background than to watch the actors dancing; that's when you know something is wrong with your movie. When all was said and done I think I chuckled a few times, but can never say I really all-out laughed at anything.
So what I'm saying is; skip The Producers, go see something else. If you're a fan of the show, I guess you would enjoy it; but if you've already seen it on broadway, why waste your time on a movie version? I suppose some people might have fun with it, but it certainly wasn't for me. Like I said earlier, I would enjoy seeing an update of the story though, it just doesn't seem like the Nazi angle is very effective anymore.