Producers, The (2005)

One of the worst movies of the year, “The Producers” is not even an honorable failure. Misconceived and misdirected, this musical remake of the 1968 Mel Brooks cult movie and the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical is so ineptly staged and shot that it makes its lead characters, Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick seem utterly charmless.

Lacking vision and inspiration, debutant director Susan Stroman, who reportedly did a good job with the Broadway production shows that she knows nothing about the film medium, about camera angles, movement, and editing, and about screen acting, letting her actors Project Big, as if we viewers were seated in the upper balcony.

In 1968, Brooks makes directorial and writing debut with “The Producers,” a modestly budgeted comedy, starring Broadway favorite Zero Mostel and a newcomer named Gene Wilder. The movie became a sleeper hit and earned Brooks an Oscar for Original Screenplay.

In 2001, Susan Stroman directed a hit Broadway musical of the movie. Twelve Tony Awards, two national touring companies, and three international productions later, “The Producers” has become a movie musical, starring the original players, Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, and a one new member, Uma Thurman, who at least looks good and understands that she acts for the camera.

The musical’s concept in its various incarnations was always simple. It’s 1959 and Broadway is buzzing with some of the biggest names of the theater world. Producer Max Bialystock (Lane), however, is not one of them. Things change, when a mousy accountant Leo Bloom (Broderick) shows up at Bialystock’s office to his books and innocently remarks that, under the right circumstances, a dishonest man could make more money producing a flop than a hit show.

A light bulb immediately goes off in Bialystock’s head, and her persuades the reluctant Bloom to join him in his perfect plan to embezzle a fortune by producing a sure-fire Broadway misfire and then skip town with the cash”We Can Do It.” Unsure, Bloom returns to his dismal job, but begins to fantasize about a more glamorous life”I Wanna Be a Producer.” Indeed, deciding he’s had enough, Bloom seizes the day and becomes Bialystock’s partner in crime.

Searching for the ultimate vehicle, Max and Leo discover “the mother lode,” a musical entitled “Springtime for Hitler,” a gay romp with Adolph and Eva in Berchesgarten. Greenwich Village playwright, Franz Liebkind (a terrible Will Ferrell) agrees to let the team produce his play contingent on their joining him celebrate the Aryan way of life”Der Gutten Tag Hop Clop.” To that extent, he forces them to pledge allegiance to Hitler.

Obstacles arise when Roger de Bris (Gary Beach) and his common-law assistant, Carmen Ghia (Roger Bart) are reluctant to tackle such serious subject matter–“Keep It Gay”–until the producers convince them that “Springtime in Germany” would bring them the respect and prestige (Tony Awards) of which they’ve always dreamed.

The screen brightens a bit with the entrance of Ulla (Thurman), a blonde Swedish bombshell, who shows up at the office for an audition, and Max and Leo hire her on the spot for the chorus. Until rehearsals begin, they panting duo aggress that Ulla should work as their secretary/slash/receptionist.

At first, the audience is horrified by “Springtime for Hitler,” but once the leading man appears as a fey Hitler (“Heil Muself”), they realize that this is not a show they should take serious and begin to relax. When the surefire flop is hailed as a hit, the partners are baffled since their plan to escape to Rio with the money quickly vanishes.

After gun threats from Liebkind, police investigation, the discovery of two books (“Show to the IRS” and “Never Show to the IRS”), Max’s trial and imprisonment, and his staging in prison a musical with inmates titled “Prisoners of Love” that brings joys and laughter from the rapists, sex maniacs and rapists, Bialystock is pardoned and he and Bloom take the show to Broadway, where they go on to produce hit after hit.

The big question is why would Brooks hire such an inexperienced director as Stroman for his movie, when he could have made a much better job In the press notes, Brooks says jokingly, “My advise to Susan was, ‘You must say ‘Action’ and then you say ‘Cut.’ If you say ‘Cut’ first and then ‘Action,’ there’ll be no film. I had to explain the rudiments.” But that’s exactly how the film looks and soundsrudimentary to the extreme.

With the exception of “Springtime for Hitler,” which is decent if not great, but at least features colorful costumes and shows movement, most of the other musical numbers are ineptly directed and presented. There are two original songs that Brooks wrote and were not in the Broadway play. “You’ll Find Your Happiness in Rio” is heard as background music, during the brief glimpses of Leo and Ulla frolicking together in paradise as Max sits in his jail cell. The second song, “There’s Nothing Like a Show on Broadway,” performed by Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane, is heard over the end credits, with the actors still very much in their characters as Leo and Max. The former is full of unabashed excitement and joy at his newfound career in showbiz, while the latter is acidic and world-weary after having to weather decades of ups and downs in the theater world.

It doesn’t help that, even under the best circumstances, Nathan Lane is no Zero Mostel, a brilliant actor at portraying zany hystericals, and Matthew Broderick is no Gene Wilder. Unappealing, “The Producers” lacks any recognizable reality, as a stage production or big-screen entertainment. Falling between the cracks, the whole picture hovers between the worlds of theater and cinema, doing injustice to both.

This is not a result of “The Producers” being shot on soundstages, since most musicals (or at least parts of them), are done this way. The musical’s failure is due to Susan Stroman’s ineptness as a movie director and choreographer.