Oversexed octogenarians, queeny homosexuals and obsessed Nazis all figured in Mel Brooks' inspired 1968 comedy The Producers, a film that walked the fine line between the offensive and the funny to riotous effect. In the film version of the smash Broadway musical based on Brooks' comic chestnut, however, the same material has little shock value by today's standards ' it's decidedly tame, almost to the point of being quaint. Still, the film's showbiz shtick, grounded in the traditions of burlesque and vaudeville, can be hilarious, thanks to a cast led by Nathan Lane, a skilled hambone who knows his way around a one-liner.
As the unscrupulous producer Max Bialystock, Lane frantically pulls out the stops in his character's quest to stage the worst show in Broadway history and become a millionaire in the process. His Tony-winning performance is blessedly intact here. Gary Beach's performance as the effete, cross-dressing director Roger De Bris is even better here than it was onstage ' he camps it up to high heaven, setting back gay rights 30 years. But even these wonderfully over-the-top performances often feel constrained by first-time film director Susan Stroman, whose inexperience behind the camera is all too apparent.
Luckily, you can sit back and ignore the film's technical deficiencies (Brooks' own films were never stellar in that regard) and go with the nutty flow, enjoying arcane jokes about Franz Kafka novels and forgotten Anthony Newley musicals. In the world of Mel Brooks, everything is fair game and anything is good for a laugh.