In Mel Brooks' 1968 film, Broadway producer Max Bialystock and his accountant Leo Bloom (here played by Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick) dream up a plan to cheat their investors out of millions by producing a guaranteed flop. Their show, an outrageously camp musical about Hitler, proves an unexpected hit. It's ironic that by dragging the Broadway musical version of The Producers back to the screen, director Susan Stroman has pulled the opposite trick, transforming a smash into a dud.
Where recent musical movies like Chicago have used the whole palette of cinematic tricks to tell their stories, Stroman's film does little more than point a camera at the stage show and let everyone get on with it. As a result, the performances are wildly over-scaled; every line is delivered to the back row in a way that quickly becomes tedious. Despite a certain manic energy, the comic schtick between Lane and Broderick feels as stale as last year's croissants; you can tell they've done these jokes a thousand times. The musical numbers, while staged with plenty of glitz, are too insipid to make much of an impression.
"THURMAN CAMPS IT UP NICELY"
There are consolations. Uma Thurman, bizarrely cast as a saucy Swedish strudel (where's Drew Barrymore when you need her?) camps it up nicely, as does Will Ferrell as the pigeon-fancying author of Springtime For Hitler. There's a splendid turn from Gary Beach as a cross-dressing theatre director whose motto "Keep It Gay" underscores the show's only memorable tune. But in general, this is a major disappointment.