By now the plot of Mel Brooks's "new neo-Nazi musical" is permanently etched in our consciousness, even for those who haven't plunked down hundreds to see the show. Far less remembered—though not for long—is how stage-bound and uncinematic it can be onscreen, both in the drab-looking 1968 film, not a full-fledged musical yet, and now in this new version, directed (if by that one means trapped in aspic) by Broadway's Susan Stroman. The action mostly takes place in two locations, the ratty office where schlockmeister Max Bialystock (Lane) and his accountant, Leo Bloom (Broderick), hatch their scheme, and the theater where Springtime for Hitler triumphantly undoes them. Watching the film, you can almost feel a draft from the missing fourth wall; laughs might fill that up, but do we usually applaud nonlive performances? Not even Garland singing "Over the Rainbow" gets that.
Even so, the actors clearly love this material, and it's hard not to be swept up in the well-oiled chemistry, not only between the lead duo but also Gary Beach's closeted director and Roger Bart's fawning assistant in "Keep It Gay." Some marquee substitutions from the original cast have been made: Will Ferrell makes a fine if shouty Nazi playwright and Uma Thurman acquits herself gamely as the Swedish Ulla, though you can't help but think more va-va-voom voluptuousness is required. Still, don't be fooled: A movie ticket may be cheaper, but in this case, it won't cover all costs.—Joshua Rothkopf
(Opens Fri 16; see Now playing for venues.)
Cast and crew
|Screenwriter:||Thomas Meehan, Mel Brooks|