The now famous story concerns two aspiring Broadway producers -- a sleazy opportunistic impresario named Max Bialystock (Nathan Lane) and his nebbishy, naive accountant, Leo Bloom (Matthew Broderick) -- who scheme to make themselves rich by producing a sure flop and keeping the leftover money once it closes. It's a plan that hinges on securing bad material -- a Nazi musical entitled "Springtime for Hitler" -- and an even worse director in the person of fruity and flamboyant Roger De Bris (Gary Beach). Along for the ride is their kooky, helmet-wearing Nazi playright, Franz Liebkind (Will Ferrell), and a svelte Swede named Ulla (Uma Thurman) who segues from secretary to leading lady to Bloom's lady love.
Stage director and choreographer Susan Stroman, who oversaw the Broadway production, makes an auspicious film debut here by emulating the style of classic studio era musicals from the '50s and '60s -- expansive long shots, judicious editing and thoughtful staging are in stark contrast to the style of other recent stage-to-screen adaptations like "Chicago," "Rent," "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" and "The Phantom of the Opera." Here, the nostalgia factor is paramount, with glowing colors, a swooning underscore and Brooks' own catchy, snappy showtunes paying loving homage to a breed of screen musical which sadly no longer exists.
Lane, Broderick and Beach, all of whom reprise their original stage roles, are spectacular, as is Uma Thurman, whose exotic beauty and natural glamour the old-fashioned style beautifully embellishes. Ferrell, however, vacillates between an awkward corniness in the nonmusical portions and spot-on brilliance during his two key tunes. A host of cameos by familiar stars are also peppered throughout.
Those who are, perhaps, less familiar or enamored with the original film yet never had the chance to see the stage production will be most receptive to this incarnation. Others with a lingering fondness for either or both of the previous versions will find it hard to watch without making comparisons along the way. Still, it's hard to imagine any but the most hardened grouch being able to walk away from the effort without a smile -- for "The Producers," in all its variations, still manages to speak to hopelessly romantic heart of every lovable loser -- that same lovable loser that dwells in each and every one of us. Starring Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Uma Thurman, Will Ferrell, Roger Bart and Gary Beach. Directed by Susan Stroman. Written by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan. Produced by Mel Brooks and Jonathan Sanger. A Universal release. Musical comedy. Rated PG-13 for sexual humor and references. Running time: 134 min