Flower-child Hitler is funnier than homo Hitler, and until someone convinces me otherwise I'll always feel grumpy about “The Producers,” an overlong movie musical based on the Broadway version of the most hilarious movie about Broadway ever made. So there.
Mel Brooks' original, nonmusical 1968 movie was plenty theatrical in the first place; here, with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick reprising their roles from the hit stage show, the theatricality is off the charts. Lane (“The Birdcage”), with eyebrows like hyperactive caterpillars, shvitzes and leches his way through the role of Broadway producer Max Bialystock (played in the original by Zero Mostel), an oily has-been who makes a meager income providing stud service to rich widows. Paid an unexpected visit by phobia-ridden accountant Milo Bloom (Broderick), Max is struck by inspiration, hatching a scheme to embezzle a small fortune by producing the worst play ever made.
After much ado, Max and Leo find their surefire flop: “Springtime for Hitler,” a neo-Nazi musical billed as a “gay romp with Eva and Adolf at Berchtesgaden.”
Gay romp, indeed. Brooks, sharing screenwriting and song-writing duties with Thomas Meehan, has jettisoned the original's knee-boot-wearing hippie Hitler (played by the late Dick Shawn; arguably the funniest performance in that movie) and beefed up the roles of queenish theater director Roger De Bris (Gary Beach) and his vampy personal assistant, Carmen Ghia (Roger Bart from “Desperate Housewives”). The upshot: A sharp increase in flamer jokes, which will feel tiresome to all but the staunchest fans of lowbrow gay stereotypes.
“The Producers” comes up short in other ways. Broderick (“The Stepford Wives”) is fractionally as amusing as Gene Wilder, who originated the role. Screaming for his beloved comfort-blankie, Broderick's Bloom feels like a cheap knockoff of the genuine article, more infant than freak. Will Ferrell (“Elf”) is adequate as the play's Reich-worshiping author, but Uma Thurman feels like dead weight as Ulla, the sex-kitten Swedish secretary who has an expanded romantic role in the musical.
That enhancement, and others, pushes the running time well over two hours, an indulgence that director Susan Stroman — long a top Broadway choreographer, making her feature directorial debut — could have spared us by cutting away some of the more prosaic musical numbers.
At least the “Springtime” scene still has life in it, still so preposterous after all these years that your mouth — like those in Max's scandalized audience — drops open in awe.