[MOVIE REVIEW] Brooks’ ‘Producers’ fails on big screen

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[MOVIE REVIEW] Brooks’ ‘Producers’ fails on big screen

With movies available practically anytime and anyplace, who would want to spend hours in a crowded hall watching sweaty people sing and dance? No talking gnomes, no space battles ― just musical theatre viewed from a distant vantage point.
Wouldn’t it be better in every way to plop down in your underwear on Sunday morning and turn on your big-screen TV?
While I do enjoy the latter activity, the answer is obviously no. Charles Taylor was right when he called live theatre a “common good” ― one that gets some of its significance from sharing it with others.
The community of the theatre includes not only spectators to laugh along with, but actors as well. Crafting the energy between house and stage is the unique, breathtaking skill of the sensitive actor.
That immediate connection between audience and actors is gone in film, which makes adapting a stage musical or play for the big screen a delicate task. It’s not as simple as setting a camera in an empty seat and letting rip. But no one would be dumb enough to think that, would they?
Alas, this appears to be the case in the film adaptation of Mel Brooks’ “The Producers.”
In this quintessential Brooks creation, the titular producers, played by Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, set out to commit accounting fraud by putting on a play guaranteed to close in one night and absconding to Rio with the backers’ money. But audiences mistake their Neo-Nazi musical, “Springtime for Hitler,” for satire, and the two end up in prison.
The worst part of this new effort is that we know “The Producers” can make a great movie ― because it already has. In 1968, Brooks wrote for and directed Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder and Kenneth Mars in a tour de force of historical satire, manic rants and dirty one-liners.
The live musical is also fantastic. I know every song and gag by heart since my father has starred in the stage version in various cities for years (he also appears in the film in a small role), but this isn’t a simple case of an adaptation caught in the shadow of its original.
Jokes that kill on stage and in the original film lie dead on the screen. Lane and Uma Thurman put forth valiant efforts, but their lines suffocate in the dead space that should be filled by the laughter of a live audience. Broderick, meanwhile, is simply miscast. He fails to realize the constant Jekyll/Hyde tension that made Gene Wilder’s performance in the first film so brilliant, letting the constraints of his character bind comic energy that should flow freely.
The movie’s shining light is Beach as Roger DeBris, the director and title character of “Springtime.” His supreme confidence brings focus to the wobbly camera work, and, perhaps because he doesn’t need to rely on dialogue, his outrageous lines always hit the mark. When he rises up behind his Nazi stormtrooper chorus girls dressed as the butcher of Auschwitz and throws out his jazz hands and a Shirley Temple grin, eyes gleaming maniacally, viewers catch a glimpse of the brilliance of the ’68 film and the musical that swept America. A shame it’s only a glimpse.

The Producers
Musical comedy / English
133 min.
Opens Jan. 26

By Ben Applegate Contributing Writer ben@joongang.co.kr
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