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The Producers: The Movie Musical

Review Written by: Will Penley
Film: B+
Video/Audio/Extras: A/A+/B-

Directed by: Susan Stroman
Written by: Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan
Based on the play by: Mel Brooks
Produced by: Mel Brooks and Jonathan Sanger
Starring: Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Uma Thurman, Will Ferrell, Gary Beach, Roger Bart, Eileen Essell
Buy it!, Buy it, rent it or skip it: Rent it

"Hitler, there was a painter. He could paint an entire apartment in one afternoon. Two coats."

I love the original version of The Producers, so it was a top priority to see this new version as soon as possible after it hit the shelves. I can't really call this a remake, even though some scenes are just as they were in the original. No, the new Producers feels like someone set a camera down in front of the stage at the Broadway play and just let it run. It doesn't work as well as it would in a gigantic theater with the actors just a few yards away, but the good news is that it does work. This new Producers mixes elements from the original film and the Broadway play, making for a big, loud, colorful good time.

The plot hasn't changed much since 1968, but here it is. Sleazy Broadway producer Max Bialystock (Nathan Lane) has been in a bit of a rut recently, producing only plays that flop and having to fondle little old ladies to do so. Leo Bloom (Matthew Broderick) is a public accountant who Max has hired to do his books. After their hilarious first encounter, Leo discovers a serious error in one of the books that says Max raised more money than he needed to produce his last play. That's when Leo gets a brilliant, crazy idea. Under the right circumstances, he says, a producer could make more money with a flop than with a hit. All he'd have to do is find a sure-fire flop and raise more money than he needed. The IRS isn't interested in a play that flopped, right? Max is enchanted by this wild idea and the two join forces to become millionaires with one of the worst plays ever written, "Springtime for Hitler!" Things go awry when the show actually becomes a hit!

The Producers is a very funny film, but it doesn't quite capture the sheer hilarity that the original had. Nathan Lane is an especially good replacement for Zero Mostel, but Matthew Broderick seems a bit stiff in his part. I was looking forward to seeing him recreate some of Gene Wilder's best moments from the original, like his going nuts when someone else touches his blue blanket. Alas, he was a disappointment. Will Ferrell shows his range as crazy kraut Franz Liebkind, but he doesn't quite match Kenneth Mars (though he does come close). One other great performance is Uma Thurman as Max's secretary/receptionist Ulla. She brings some new things to the role and really shows off her abilities.

The film is riddled with musical numbers and those are a mixed bag. Some of them are great, like "Opening Night" and "I Wanna Be a Producer," but some of the others just run a bit too long for their own good. If there were fewer songs, I think I would have liked this film more. It's not that I dislike musicals (I loved Rent), but I just felt that some of the songs seemed out of place here. Despite some flaws, The Producers remains a delight and anyone who loved the original is sure to at least like this one.

The technical aspects of the DVD are just marvelous. The video is great with almost zero instances of scratches, grain or unsightly edge enhancement. The audio really explodes out of the speakers and as Estefan as already said, "It actually feels like watching it on Broadway." Though it was ironic that The Producers flopped at the box office, I blame that for Universal's not giving us more substantial extras. The first extra is a series of deleted scenes, mostly consisting of deleted musical numbers. It's definitely for the best that these were cut out (with the exception of a musical number called "King of Broadway") because at two hours and fifteen minutes, the film is long enough as it is.

An outtakes reel is up next and these are hilarious. It's always fun seeing the on-set antics during production, especially with the presence of someone as funny as Nathan Lane. There's also a fantastic, in-depth featurette that documents the behind-the-scenes creation of the "I Wanna Be a Producer" musical number that really opened my eyes as to how much effort goes into just one key scene. This is one featurette you'll definitely want to check out. The last extra is just ghastly and it shouldn't be. Director Susan Stroman has provided an audio commentary for the film and she is just dreadful! We would have gotten the exact same effect with a subtitled trivia track, because this commentary sounds just like she's reading one. This was a real disappointment for me.

Regardless of its many flaws, The Producers is a very funny film and well worth watching, but the lack of extras on the DVD makes this disc just a rental.

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