“The Producers”

Watching Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane's ultra-broad shtick is a little like watching a 3-D Imax film without the special glasses.

Topics: Movies,

"The Producers"

After Rob Marshall’s shimmying, tinselly film version of “Chicago” became a hit, those of us who love movie musicals — at least a certain kind of movie musical — hoped that the form would experience a renaissance of sorts. Who did we think we were kidding? 2004 brought us the weird cardboard-and-sugar spectacle “Phantom of the Opera,” which, horrible as it was, at least seemed like a minor nightmare from which the movie musical might yet recover.

But things have gone from verse to verser: Last month we got “Rent,” a peppy little campfire-singalong about a group of New York boho types desperately trying to live for their art even as AIDS keeps bumming them out. And now we have “The Producers,” which, even though it has the virtue of being based on good material, is as disappointing as any post-”Chicago” movie musical yet.

“The Producers” was directed by Susan Stroman, the Tony Award-winning director and choreographer who has never made a movie before. Watching it, I began to wonder if she’d even seen a movie before. “The Producers” is essentially a filmed version of a stage play, in which none of the characters’ expressions or line readings have been scaled down to make sense on-screen. Every gesture is played out as if the actors were 20 feet (or more) away in real life, which means that, by the time the performers are magnified on the big screen, they’re practically sitting in your lap. The effect is something like watching a 3-D Imax movie without the special glasses. When Matthew Broderick, as Leo Bloom, goggles at Uma Thurman’s sexy-secretary Ulla, you not only see the whites of his eyes — you feel them invading your personal space. At one point I thought Nathan Lane’s Max Bialystock had sprayed me with spittle; thank God I was mistaken.



The movie’s oversize scale works at cross-purposes with Mel Brooks’ story, about a Broadway producer and an accountant who set out to get rich by staging a flop. (Their vehicle of choice: A musical called “Springtime for Hitler.”) Part of Brooks’ genius is the way he tosses out little bits of ridiculousness whose brilliance doesn’t hit you until a few beats later. But there’s no breathing space in this version of “The Producers” — every line feels like a fastball. The musical numbers are assaultive without feeling lavish or exhilarating. And I’m still puzzling out how one of the big numbers, “Make It Gay” — featuring an array of prancing, preening extras, as well as Roger Bart in a black turtleneck outfit laden with chains and pendant-style magnifying glasses — is supposed to be anything other than homophobic, or at least just assertively clueless. I suppose this display is potentially defensible as a so-called celebration of stereotypes, but I’m not buying it.

Much of what Lane and Broderick do here must have worked nicely in live performance. (And Lane, with those Pagliacci eyebrows of his, is expressively big whether he’s onstage or on-screen; here, he’s slightly easier to take than Broderick is.)

But watching “The Producers” is simply exhausting. I counted numerous shots that were puzzlingly out-of-focus — the movie has two experienced cinematographers (Charles Minsky and John Bailey), so it’s hard to know who’s to blame. Maybe worst of all, this is a movie that reduces the marvelous, too-little-seen Andrea Martin to a footnote: She appears fleetingly in one musical number, and since she gets a prominent screen credit, I assume she had some bigger scenes that were ultimately cut. But then, who in her right mind cuts Andrea Martin? “The Producers” is so aggressively fun that it never lets you forget what a bad time you’re having. It’s about as subtle as a crashing chandelier — maybe less so.

Stephanie Zacharek is a senior writer for Salon Arts & Entertainment.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 17
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    John Stanmeyer

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Container City: Shipping containers, indispensable tool of the globalized consumer economy, reflect the skyline in Singapore, one of the world’s busiest ports.

    Lu Guang

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Man Covering His Mouth: A shepherd by the Yellow River cannot stand the smell, Inner Mongolia, China

    Carolyn Cole/LATimes

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Angry Crowd: People jostle for food relief distribution following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti

    Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    “Black Friday” Shoppers: Aggressive bargain hunters push through the front doors of the Boise Towne Square mall as they are opened at 1 a.m. Friday, Nov. 24, 2007, Boise, Idaho, USA

    Google Earth/NOAA, U.S. Navy, NGA, GEBCO

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Suburban Sprawl: aerial view of landscape outside Miami, Florida, shows 13 golf courses amongst track homes on the edge of the Everglades.

    Garth Lentz

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Toxic Landscape: Aerial view of the tar sands region, where mining operations and tailings ponds are so vast they can be seen from outer space; Alberta, Canada

    Cotton Coulson/Keenpress

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Ice Waterfall: In both the Arctic and Antarctic regions, ice is retreating. Melting water on icecap, North East Land, Svalbard, Norway

    Yann Arthus-Bertrand

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Satellite Dishes: The rooftops of Aleppo, Syria, one of the world’s oldest cities, are covered with satellite dishes, linking residents to a globalized consumer culture.

    Stephanie Sinclair

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Child Brides: Tahani, 8, is seen with her husband Majed, 27, and her former classmate Ghada, 8, and her husband in Hajjah, Yemen, July 26, 2010.

    Mike Hedge

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Megalopolis: Shanghai, China, a sprawling megacity of 24 Million

    Google Earth/ 2014 Digital Globe

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Big Hole: The Mir Mine in Russia is the world’s largest diamond mine.

    Daniel Dancer

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Clear-cut: Industrial forestry degrading public lands, Willamette National Forest, Oregon

    Peter Essick

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Computer Dump: Massive quantities of waste from obsolete computers and other electronics are typically shipped to the developing world for sorting and/or disposal. Photo from Accra, Ghana.

    Daniel Beltra

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Oil Spill Fire: Aerial view of an oil fire following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, Gulf of Mexico

    Ian Wylie

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Slide 13

    Airplane Contrails: Globalized transportation networks, especially commercial aviation, are a major contributor of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Photo of contrails in the west London sky over the River Thames, London, England.

    R.J. Sangosti/Denver Post

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Fire: More frequent and more intense wildfires (such as this one in Colorado, USA) are another consequence of a warming planet.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>