It's fitting, really, that The Producers' storyline centers around a theatrical flop that rakes in money: A producer and his accountant—Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom, played by Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick respectively—scheme to make millions by collecting cash up front from little old ladies, then opening a terrible show (Springtime for Hitler), put on by an abysmal director, with awful talent. If the show is shuttered after one night, Bialystock and Bloom strike gold, having conned the elderly.
The film version of The Producers—with the same director as the Tony Award-winning Broadway version (which was, in turn, based on Mel Brooks' 1968 film), and much of the same cast—is, similarly, a flop. What might have been a fun romp on Broadway doesn't translate well to film, at least not in director Susan Stroman's hands. Stroman, usually a stage director and choreographer, doesn't seem to know how to get her actors to tone it down, or where to put the camera.
The result is a film that's off putting, with actors—especially Broderick, who appears to be tweaking on meth throughout the film—overdoing each line and gesture. The camera seems to be either detached, set up on a distant tripod to capture a dance number, or up in actors' faces to catch every ounce of overwrought expression. And the show's jokes—most of which rely on gay theatrical stereotypes or men going ga-ga for actresses—are tired, tending to stretch into the crude to try and get a laugh.
There are a few bright spots—Uma Thurman plays a sweet, aspiring Swedish starlet, and her dance numbers (she can do the splits!) are fun, until they make Broderick's eyes bug out. Will Ferrell plays the borderline-insane Nazi playwright who authored Bialystock and Bloom's flop; his scene on a New York rooftop with the producer and the accountant includes a goofy song-and-dance routine that only a comic like Ferrell can pull off (that is, if you can ignore the flock of bizarre mechanical pigeons). Unfortunately, the rest of this over-acted groan fest drowns those two highlights out.