Friday, February 16, 2007

The Producers (2006)

(Movie Review)

I’m a little late in seeing this movie, but it’s not for lack of interest I assure you. I’ve wanted to see this movie for a long time. I would have rather have seen the original, but as I never came across it in any video stores, I figured this remake would be just as good.

Like most adolescent boys do, I went through a stage when I was a big Mel Brooks fan. But aside from that, the plot of this movie intrigues me. I used to think it would be really funny to make a Hollywood movie about making the worst movie ever, long before I discovered Mel Brooks had already had the same idea. (And if we count “Waiting for Guffman”, “Ed Wood”, and several similar movies, it appears my childhood ideas aren’t as original as I once thought they were.) And last there is the pure political incorrectness of a movie like this which, right or wrong, ought to generate plenty of material for discussion.

And so after all that, I’m sorry to say that this movie is a big disappointment.

I remember reading a review of this movie which said that the problem with this film is that it sticks too closely to the Broadway musical, and thus the over-acting and slap stick comedy that works on the stage doesn’t translate well to the big screen. I'm at a bit of a disadvantage not having seen the original or the play, but I think this is undoubtedly part of the problem. But the woes of this film run deeper than that.

Some of the songs in this movie are pretty funny, particularly the ones that are part of the play within the film. But most of them are unmemorable, and serve only to slow down the action of the movie. Whenever something borderline interesting is going on, the action stops for a song. (Maybe this is just the bias of a man who never really understood the purpose of the Hollywood musical. Or at least always been impatient when watching them for the first time.)

And then, most of the film just isn’t that funny. I'm not saying it doesn't have its moments, but sad indeed would be a 2-hour comedy without any moments. (Not that it stops Hollywood from cranking them out. Whatever Hollywood screenwriters get paid, it's too much.)

Of course every Mel Brooks fan knows the man is just as famous for his stinkers as his successes, but then the question is how did this play become such a big Broadway hit? Is this something you have to see live to appreciate? Is more lost in the transition to film than we realize? Or is the kind of person who patronizes Broadway plays completely out of touch with the South Park/ Family Guy generation, for whom politically incorrect humor is no longer a shocking novelty.

I suspect the latter is a big part of it. A film like this might have raised a lot of eyebrows in the 1960s, but these days the notion that anyone would be shocked by it may serve as a generational litmus test.

….Then again, Charlie Chaplin did “The Great Dictator” way back in the 1930s. Although he did say later that if he had known about the death camps, he wouldn’t have done the film as a comedy.

Which raises the inevitable question of the morality of this kind of humor. After I had made a big deal last year of emphasizing to Shoko that Nazi symbols are not acceptable in America, I had to adjust my explanations after we watched this movie.

By the time I get around to chiming in with my two cents, I think this debate has been pretty much exhausted, as every single review of “The Great Dictator” or “The Producers” over the last 60 or 40 years, has dealt with question: the debate between not wanting to make a sacred cow out of Hitler, and also not wanting to minimize the horror of the Nazi regime. I think most of us can understand both sides, and have a healthy nervous ambivalence about this kind of thing, which, if handled right, adds to the humor. The question is, can the director pull it off? In the case of “The Great Dictator”, I’d say yes. With “The Producers”, I’d say try again.

Useless Wikipedia Fact
Disney's version of Alice in Wonderland suddenly found itself in vogue with the times almost two decades later the initial release, following the North American success of George Duning's animated feature Yellow Submarine. In fact, because of Mary Blair's art direction and the long-standing association of Carroll's Alice in Wonderland with the drug culture, the feature was re-discovered as something of a "head film" (along with Fantasia and The Three Caballeros) among the college-aged and was shown in various college towns across the country. The Disney company resisted this association, and even withdrew prints of the film from universities, but then, in 1974, the Disney company gave Alice in Wonderland its first theatrical re-release ever, and the company even promoted it as a film in tune with the "psychedelic" times

Link of the Day
Congressman Vern Ehlers Votes against Measure Opposing Escalation of Iraq War

1 comment:

Joel said...

Update: for a very intelligent run down of everything that is wrong with this film, see here:

http://confusedmatthew.com/the-producers.html