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Thursday, Dec. 29, 2005 09:36 pm

Lost in translation

The film adaptation of The Producers is slow, dull, and bloated

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If ever a film had “sure-fire hit” written all over it, it would be Susan Stroman’s big-screen adaptation of her Broadway smash The Producers. After all, the musical itself was based on the Mel Brooks comedy classic, released in 1968, and stars Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick in the roles that made them the toast of the Great White Way. Throw Will Ferrell and Uma Thurman into the mix, and there’s no way this film could go wrong. And yet something does go horribly awry. Something is lost in this retranslation. What once was a quick, witty, sharp-edged comedy is now a slow, dull, bloated movie that winds up being a labor instead of a delight. Although many of the jokes still work, thanks in large part to the work of Lane as crooked Broadway producer Max Bialystock and Broderick as easily panicked accountant Leo Bloom, the songs wind up bringing the film to a screeching halt whenever anyone starts to warble. As they set out to put on the world’s worst play, Springtime for Hitler, with the goal of producing a disaster that will close after one performance, the film bounds from one joyous moment to the next. And then disaster strikes. Broderick’s first solo number, “I Want to Be a Producer,” launches a series of song-and-dance numbers that are far too long and repetitious. Every supporting character is given a chance to shine, and — with the exception of Uma Thurman, who truly does rise to the occasion as the sexpot Ulla in her vamping “If You’ve Got it, Flaunt it” — every other performer falls victim to the biggest pitfall of movies of this sort. Each and every one, from Will Ferrell as the mad Nazi author Franz Liebkind to Gary Beach as the eccentric director Roger De Bris, tries to be as large as this oversized production and succeeds only in falling flat. Most of the blame rests with Stroman, who makes a grave miscalculation by adhering to the Broadway sensibility that made the play a hit. Grand, show-stopping numbers are expected in that medium, lest the audience think they’re not getting their money’s worth. Movie musicals have their fair share of elaborate song-and-dance routines, but the good ones energize the films they’re in. Here, they weigh the production down like a millstone. In movies, less is always more, a concept that many modern filmmakers fail to understand — and Stroman is no exception.

Fun with Dick and Jane [PG-13] A comedy about a husband and wife duo that commits robberies to afford their well-heeled lifestyle in the suburbs. ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East
The Ringer [R] A slapstick comedy featuring jackass Johnny Knoxville as a ringer thrown into the Special Olympics game to hopefully win and pay off a debt. ShowPlace West

Rumor Has It [PG-13] Sarah learns a little too much about her family when she finds out they may be the inspiration for Charles Webb’s The Graduate. ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East

Wolf Creek [R] Three travelers find more than just a friendly hand when they accept help from a local Australian on their dangerous road trip. ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East
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