by Luke Baumgarten & r & The Producers & r & The Producers is a bawdy, compassionate riff on everything from gay culture to arts philanthropy that also - and perhaps most importantly - makes a compelling argument that, yes, it's finally OK to make jokes about Nazis. Of course, those themes and that argument were far more compelling (and controversial) when the original film was made in 1968. Now, in the waning days of 2005, an era of Viagra and stunning advances in hip-replacement technologies, the idea of old women leading a sexually charged twilight doesn't seem very risqu & eacute; at all. Nor does the flamboyant lifestyle of theater director Roger De Bris (Gary Beach) and his "common-law assistant" Carmen Ghia (Roger Bart, Hollywood's new gay everyman). It's just not that odd anymore to see a dude in a dress (though it is funny to see a dress that looks like the Chrysler Building). De Bris' entourage are mildly funny caricatures of gay culture, though dressing three of them like the Village People costumes makes the whole thing seem threadbare.
Another thing that hasn't fared well are the performances. Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) and Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder) originally inhabited exclusive aspects of Mel Brook's psyche, creating something that resembled two different characters. The new Max and Leo, Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, though, make the delineation somewhat less clear. Their mannerisms are at times very similar, and when Broderick launches into his best Gene Wilder impression (which he attempts admirably and with aplomb, but doesn't quite hit) and Lane plays it like Jerry Lewis, the two begin to sound an awful lot like parodies of one another.
True, having a cross-dressing queer play Hitler is slightly more of-the-moment than having Der Fuhrer played by a hippie -- but, really, people have been joking for years about how Hitler was gay. Full of marginal improvements and hesitant updates of a film that wasn't even very edgy for its time, The Producers is funny, just not very inventive.
If Hollywood is remaking The Producers, we have to ask ourselves, why not remake Blazing Saddles as well? It's aged just about the same, carrying the air of a once-biting satire that still retains some of vague hint of a subversive edge. The problem with that, of course, is that it's too damn old to offend anyone -- too old, really, to tell us anything new about our times. What got The Producers a remake had more to do with profit potential than relevance. A bunch of Broadway-goers thought it'd be a lark to let their hair down and have a laugh at their own expense -- partly, I suspect, because Brooks' Bialystock and Bloom are more community theater than Broadway, and thus don't hit too close to home -- making the 35-years-outdated stage adaptation a huge hit. Lacking a similarly large, monied audience of urbane black cowboys, Blazing Saddles -- despite lampooning more timely subjects -- has very little chance of earning a remake. That sad reality of 21st-century movie remakes ultimately leaves a sweet, tart comedy tasting sour.
The new one is smart and funny and action-packed, and it’s bigger and better and sleeker. And Downey does it again, this time ramping up Stark’s arrogant wisecracking, telling anyone who’ll listen (mostly women) that, via the creation of his powerful Iron Man suit, he’s brought years of uninterrupted peace to the world.