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It's springtime for ‘The Producers’ on screen

Mel Brooks' new musical version of original film wacky, giddy, entertaining
/ Source: The Associated Press

And so it’s springtime for Hitler again, time to choose sides over the two movie versions of “The Producers,” Mel Brooks’ comedy about Broadway con artists.

Do Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, reprising their roles from the stage musical, measure up to Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, the stars of the original 1968 film? Not quite, but Lane and Broderick make a great romp of it all.

Is the new version as funny as the original, which earned Brooks an Academy Award for his screenplay? Again, not quite, because it treads a great deal of the same ground, down to much of the dialogue and even the comedic tone Lane and Broderick strike in their exchanges. But the original is hardly a DVD owned by every household, so it’ll all be new to many movie-goers, and the new version does add some clever gags and has a supporting cast that often outshines that of the 1968 film, led by Uma Thurman, Will Ferrell, Roger Bart and Gary Beach.

Does the new version benefit from all the padding the musical numbers add? Yes and no. It’s a good 45 minutes longer than the taut original, the remake dragging at times. Yet the musical numbers add an often delightful, toe-tapping fantasy aspect lacking in Brooks’ original.

Wacky, giddy homage to old Hollywood
So, all things considered: As the original was for 1968 audiences, the musical version of “The Producers” is about as much pure fun as you’ll have at the movies this year. It’s wacky and giddy in a way Hollywood films rarely are nowadays.

The old, anything-for-a-laugh style employed by Brooks — appropriately, the lead producer on the new film — on such films as “Blazing Saddles” and “Young Frankenstein” is in full force. The result is such a furious comedic cyclone that even the clunkers and groaners seem funnier than they are among the zingers.

“The Producers” is at its weakest early on, during the long, somewhat awkward setup in which Lane’s desperate-for-a-hit Broadway producer Max Bialystock gets acquainted with Broderick’s jittery Leopold Bloom, an accountant sent to do Max’s books.

At that point, the actors and director Susan Stroman — making her film debut after her Tony-winning direction of “The Producers” on Broadway — are still getting their shtick together, and laughs are scarce as Max and Leo get a feel for each other’s over-the-top idiosyncrasies.

Once Leo hits on the story’s pivotal notion — that producers could make more money with a flop by pocketing investors’ unspent cash — the film quickly gains momentum with priceless comedy sequences and show-stopping numbers that playfully tweak yet respectfully salute old Hollywood musicals.

Will Ferrell a grand mix of ardor and lunacyFerrell as ex-Nazi playwright Franz Liebkind, who writes the revisionist romp “Springtime for Hitler” that Max and Leo snatch up for their certain bomb, is a grand mix of outrageous ardor and lunacy, leading the two producers in a merry German folk song, “Der Guten Tag Hop Clop.”

Thurman as bouncy Swedish bimbo Ulla, who becomes Max and Leo’s secretary and a co-star in “Springtime for Hitler,” shows off a great set of lungs belting out her big solo number and shares a sweet Astaire-and-Rogers routine with Broderick on a soft love song.

Reprising their Broadway roles, Beach as the play’s director and eventual star, Roger De Bris, and Bart as his sibilant assistant, Carmen Ghia, make for one of cinema’s great fey, gay couples, mincing, prancing and hissing with abandon.

Jon Lovitz adds a jolly bit role as Leo’s imperious accounting-house boss.

The howlingly funny “Springtime for Hitler” musical centerpiece is very reminiscent of the 1968 original, but the new songs Brooks wrote for the Broadway play are a strong and amusing crop, a big reason why “The Producers” became such a hit on stage.

There are several reasons to stick through the closing credits. First is Ferrell’s hilariously sappy reprise of his “Der Guten Tag Hop Clop” tune, which plays over the first half of the credits. And at the very end, there’s a little bonus musical number, with a cameo Brooks fans will not want to miss.