The Producers directed by Susan Stroman, written by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan, with Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick and Uma Thurman. 134 minutes. A Universal Pictures release. Opens Friday (December 16). For venues and times, see Movie Listings. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Mel Brooks can do more for the cause of political incorrectness with a single line than all the conservative blowhards can do with millions of column inches or countless journeys through the No-Spin Zone.
Take The Producers. The new movie, based on the musical that was based on the 1968 movie, manages to be offensive about nearly everyone: women, gays, Jews, Germans, old people, accountants. And yet it's flat-out hilarious, reminding you that comedy should make you laugh, not make you comfortable.
Max Bialystock (Nathan Lane) is a washed-up Broadway producer whose shows close on opening night. When accountant Leo Bloom (Matthew Broderick) arrives to do the books, he notes that a flop could make more money than a hit, providing enough cash was raised beforehand. Seeing his chance to strike it rich, Bialystock, with Bloom in tow, goes in search of the worst play ever written. He finds it in Springtime For Hitler, a musical designed by its writer Franz Liebken (Will Ferrell) to "clear the Fuhrer's name." Think tap-dancing brownshirts.
Anyone who didn't get to New York to see Lane and Broderick in the original stage run can now see them reprise their roles - almost exactly, since neither man shrinks his performance to camera size. Lane's outlandishness works Bialystock is meant to be larger than life but Broderick's bug-eyed hysteria made me miss Michael Therriault, Toronto's quieter, more wistful Bloom. And both dance in the footsteps of the original film's stars, Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, whose shadows have loomed over the enterprise since the play opened.
Hovering over Lane and Broderick here is Uma Thurman, who's something of a revelation as Swedish bombshell Ulla. While there are one or two places where I'm sure Thurman has a dancing double, she did do all her own singing and can really belt it out. The film also features innumerable cameos, from Andrea Martin to Queer Eye culture vulture Jai Rodriguez.
The songs are only so-so; the best is the show-stopping Springtime For Hitler, which was also in the 1968 movie and featured Brooks delivering the immortal lines "Don't be stupid, be a smarty / Come and join the Nazi party!"
Whether or not The Producers can continue the movie-musical renaissance that began with Moulin Rouge and Chicago remains to be seen; it may be too old-fashioned to appeal to a broad audience. But as someone who was raised on hoofers and crooners, I enjoyed every minute of it.