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Review: 'Producers' puts Broadway on film

Fans will love movie version that's almost too true to the play

By Paul Clinton

Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick reprise their Broadway roles for the film version of "The Producers."


Mel Brooks

(CNN) -- It's impossible to imagine any movie getting as much advance publicity as Mel Brooks' "The Producers."

Anyone who hasn't been living under a rock knows that the original film "The Producers," written and directed by Mel Brooks in 1968, moved to Broadway in 2001 as a musical and won a record 12 Tony Awards. You couldn't turn on your TV or read a newspaper without a mention of this phenomenal production.

Susan Stroman is making her film debut as a director by returning this movie to the big screen, but this time out it's based on the Broadway musical she directed with such success.

Shot at the new state-of-the-art film facility at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Stroman has stayed so close to her Broadway version she might as well have dragged the proscenium arch along with her across the Brooklyn Bridge.

With the exception of a scene in Central Park and a musical number on Fifth Avenue -- along with a close-up here and there -- this production is so stagy it feels like the camera was placed in the middle of the theater's third row and just turned on.

This is good, or bad, depending on how you want to look at it -- a ticket to the Broadway production (which is still running) is around 100 bucks and your average movie ticket is now about $12. What a bargain! You could also wait for the DVD, which will really be a deal.

I'm not saying the film isn't funny -- it is -- and if you love Mel Brooks -- and I do (although "Blazing Saddles" and "Young Frankenstein," not the "Producers," are my favorites) -- you'll probably enjoy this flick, which is pure Brooks from start to finish.

The comedy is extremely broad. Every joke is telegraphed so well it would make Western Union proud, and every old Borscht Belt drummer is aching to hit a rim shot after every line.

Most of the main cast remains in place, with Matthew Broderick playing the neurotic accountant Leo Bloom and Nathan Lane back as the desperate Broadway producer (who preys on little old ladies to finance his shows), Max Bialystock. Gary Beach once again dons a sequined gown as the cross-dressing director, Roger De Bris, and Roger Bart, his common-in-law assistant, Carmen Ghia, prances across the screen right on cue.

There are two main additions to the film. Uma Thurman -- a mother of two who has a body most women would kill for -- plays Ulla, the bombshell Swedish actress. She lights up the screen when singing "When You've Got It, Flaunt It." Will Ferrell is delightful as playwright Franz Liebkind, who wrote the musical as an ode to his hero, Adolf Hitler.

The basic premise, for those two or three people out there who don't know, is that Bloom -- in an offhand remark -- tells Bialystock that if he produced a play that closed on opening night, he could oversell shares to the backers of the production and make millions of dollars when the play tanked. Bialystock talks a reluctant Bloom into being his partner and soon they find the perfect bomb, "Springtime for Hitler."

Sitting in the theater watching this film almost felt like being at one of those late-night screenings of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," where the audience sings along with their favorite songs. I almost found myself belting out a couple of the tunes, but thankfully I was able to restrain myself.

Broderick and Lane know this material so well, they could have phoned it in, but to their credit they both give it their all.

Brooks, and all the other main players in the production, decided to make this Broadway musical into a film because they wanted it on film for posterity.

They succeeded. It's now on film forever and ever, along with their purposely over-the-top performances.

There's just one little problem --- this isn't a movie. It's a Broadway musical captured on film.

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