The Producers (2005) — Very tasteful and modest

“The Fuhrer wasn’t a mousy little mama’s boy! The Fuhrer was BUTCH!”

PoolMan’s rating: All dat und a bag of kartoffelchips.

PoolMan’s review: Allow me, if you will, to try and explain the enigma that is PoolMom.

My mom is a crazy lady. She’s the only mom I’ve got, and she’s a keeper, make no mistake, but she’s every bit as weird as I am. Guess there’s something to heredity after all. To my knowledge, her obsessions in life are as follows:

  1. Men with moustaches. I’ve discussed this before, but just trust me on this.
  2. Taking cruises. If a boat doesn’t go there, neither does she.
  3. Musicals.

Now, if that’s not enough of a portrait, clear your calendar and I’ll spill more, but for the purposes of this review, it should suffice. Mom is NUTS about musicals. I got her a copy of Chicago for her birthday this year, only to discover she not only already owns it, but watches it fortnightly. And I have to admit (again), it seems there’s a leak in the genes, because I’m extremely fond of them myself. Toss in the irreverent humour of Mel Brooks, and we may just have a winner!

The Producers (the 2005 version, I’ve never seen the ’60s original, so I can’t do the big “comparison review” for you, sorry!) is the tale of Max Bialystock (Nathan Lane) and Leo Bloom (Matthew Broderick), respectively a fading Broadway producer and disenfranchised accountant. Both are unhappy with how their lives are going.

Max’s latest play, a musical version of Hamlet, has just crashed after one night, and Leo’s been assigned by his tyrannical firm to go over the books for the flop. What Leo discovers, however, is that Max has actually made a small profit, raising $100,000 to produce a $98,000 show. He muses aloud that, done correctly, it might be possible to actually make more money on a terrible show than a good one. Max, who’s basically a shark in a cheap suit, seizes on the idea, and commissions Leo to help him produce the worst show in history while raising as much capital as possible, then fleeing to Rio with the proceeds.

The hook of the show is the fact that, in a generic ’50s setting, the worst possible show they could produce is a little number by the name of “Springtime for Hitler,” a musical written by Nazi apologist Franz Liebkind (a to-the-hilt Will Ferrell). Complicate the issues with a gorgeous blond bombshell getting between the two partners (Uma Thurman as Ulla), and off you go!

The problem is that instead of a flop, Springtime turns out to be a smash hit, and Max and Leo suddenly find themselves up to their necks in unwanted success and financial attention when the plan backfires.

I’ll get my nits out of the way first. First off, this is a movie adapted from a stage production that was in turn adapted from a forty-year-old movie. This has its ups and downs, but the biggest thing you need to know is that it wears its musical and stage influences on its sleeve. For me, this is a plus, because (as I already mentioned) musicals are wonderful in my eyes. But for the uninitiated, it could grate. The actors are almost all veterans of the stage production (the exceptions are Ferrell and Thurman), and they play it that way. So it’s very over the top and might seem more expressive and physical than it needs to be if you’re not used to that kind of thing.

The other thing is Nathan Lane. He presents such a weird paradox here. Lane is absolutely perfect for the role of Max, all manic expressions and over the top mugging, which works well for the role. But for stretches of time, he just does his own thing. He mugs and yells and wheezes for the camera. If you like Nathan Lane, you’ll survive just fine, but if not, you’ll turn this movie off a long way before the end credits.

But the cast is pretty much a smash hit. Broderick and Lane have great chemistry (even if Ferris affects kind of a weird voice for the character of Bloom), and Uma Thurman just (here’s the Broadway in me coming out) sizzles as Ulla. I’ve never seen her look hotter or look like she’s more enjoying a role. And Will Ferrell as Franz was an inspired choice… he’s absolutely over the top in his stormtrooper helmet and lederhosen as the Nazi poster boy. It might be my favourite thing I’ve ever seen him do.

And if you like your musical numbers long, bright, and satirical, this will definitely be your bag. From the excessively lavish Broadway lights-laden “I Want to be a Producer” to the unbelievably tasteless “Springtime for Hitler” show number, every song is catchy, fun, and dripping with Mel Brooks’ trademark satire. Think Chicago, but with a fun mean streak. Brooks wrote some really risqué stuff into this one, poking fun at not just the Nazis, but also Sweden and a whole host of other folks. Take it with a grain of salt.

All in all, I couldn’t stop grinning and laughing through The Producers, even while the fine people I watched it with “got it” to varying degrees. It’s very high quality for what it is, but what it is might not be for everyone. Check it out, and then you can come over to my house and practice Der Guten Tag Hop-Clop. I’ll bring the Cheesies.

Didja notice?

  • Blink n’ you’ll miss it cameos by original creator Mel Brooks (well, technically, you can pick out his cameos with your eyes closed…) and Mike McKean.
  • Nazi pigeons!
  • Uma, Ulla. Ulla, Uma.
  • All the spoof Broadway titles at the end, including Katz and Death of a Salesman on Ice.
  • Austin Powers flashbacks when Ferrell breaks his leg offscreen.
  • Is that… is that the Village People?
  • The matching outfits on Ulla and Leo in the courtroom.
  • Swastika dancing!

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