Dir: Susan Stroman. USA.2005. 135mins.

The strange, zany trip of Mel Brooks' The Producers - which began in 1968 as amovie about a Broadway musical; morphed into a Tony-winning smash hit Broadwaymusical about a Broadway musical; and now reincarnates itself on film withalmost the entire creative team behind that stage adaptation intact - finally comesto a pleasing third-act conclusion in movie theatres.

While musicals Moulin Rouge and the shrewdly marketed Chicago pulled in $120-135m overseas,the latter was the real winner domestically, chalking up $170m in receipts athome en route to multiple Oscar nominations.

Given theinherently crowd-pleasing nature of its material - and the large fan base fromits recent stage runs in New York, Los Angeles and on the West End - The Producers should reasonably skewtoward the more optimistic levels of those returns.

While the genrehas seen a bit of resurgence recently, this is one of the few movie musicals totruly embrace the big, freewheeling style of cinemascope musicals past, andfans old and new wanting a document of it should help make the film a hit onDVD too once it makes its way there.

In the US itenjoys a limited release on Dec 16, expanding on Dec 25 before gojng wide on Jan 13. Overseas it opens in the UK on Dec 26before rolling out internationally the following month.

For thoseunfamiliar with the stage show, Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane reprise theirroles as mousy accountant Leopold Bloom and fading, self-centered musicaltheater producer Max Bialystock, respectively. WhenLeo is called in to audit the books on Max's latest fiasco, he offhandedlydeduces that through a certain loophole a guaranteed flop might actually generatemore profits than a hit.

Seizing on thisnugget, Max - who's made a career out of coarse fare like King Leer and The BreakingWind, but now finds himself so on the verge of collapse that he's wearing acardboard belt - plays to Leo's long-held secret desire to be a Broadwayproducer, and wheedles and cajoles him into entering into a scheme to find andmount one such purposefully doomed production.

For their play,Max and Leo first settle upon Springtime For Hitler, an achingly genuine musical celebration ofthe Nazi Third Reich penned by wild-eyed pigeon enthusiast Franz Liebkind (Will Ferrell). They then set about matching upthis awful premise with the most inappropriate director, hiring flamboyant,cross-dressing Roger De Bris (Gary Beach), who comeswith his "common-law assistant" Carmen Ghia (RogerBart) in tow, and pitches Max and Leo on a spangled production replete withleggy Gestapo gals.

With everythingfalling into place, Max and Leo's good luck is extended when a lithe Swedishbombshell named Ulla (UmaThurman) falls into their laps. Before other auditions are even held, Max andLeo cast her as their secretary/receptionist, with the promise of a part onceproduction on Springtime For Hitler commences.

From there,though, their fortunes take a turn for the worse. When Liebkind,cast as Hitler, breaks a leg on opening night and De Brisgoes on for him, the show becomes a camp sensation. In pursuit of a rampaging Liebkind, the cops come calling,cooked financial books are discovered, and Max winds up in jail while Leo and Ulla elope overseas.

Director Susan Stroman, who also choreographed the picture as well as theoriginal stage show, moves some of the action out of Max's office and onto thestreets and into Central Park, where the reprise of We Can Do It is transformed into a fountain splish-splash.

The bulk of thefilm, though, wisely retains its overt theatricality, the difference being herethat Stroman can occasionally center her lens for asnappish pause or close-up conniption.

Truth be told,the second act of Brooks and Meehan's two-fold script - after Springtime ForHitler becomes a hit and Leo and Ulla leave Maxhigh and dry - has always coasted rather than sprinted across the finish line,and it's no different here. Absent the propulsive, serial wackiness of thefirst act, The Producers struggles abit in its actual plotting, relying more on the absurdity of its characterisations for its comedy.

There's littleleft to say about Lane and Broderick that hasn't already been said; they're bothmulti-faceted musical theatre comedians, and their rapport together is polishedand bright. There's not a trace of fatigue or affectation in their performanceshere: everyone is game and on the same page, and the film is at once a faithfuland slightly heightened version of the stage show that so bowled overaudiences.

There's entertainmentin the risque lyrics and out-there narrative, but the two leads' jauntyrepartee is the real attraction. Similarly, Beach and Bart (both alsoreprising) have a blast as De Bris and Carmen Ghia.

In supportingroles, newcomers Ferrell and Thurman fulfill the one-note requirements of theircharacters with gleeful abandon, and Thurman in particular displays a leoninegrace - no shock, really, given the physicality of her work in the Kill Bill series - that confirms her oneof the more (no pun intended) flexible actresses of her generation.

Universal Pictures
Columbia Pictures
Brooksfilms Productions

US distribution
Universal Pictures

Sony Pictures Releasing International

Mel Brooks
Jonathan Sanger

Amy Herman

Leah Zappy

Mel Brooks
Thomas Meehan

John Bailey
Charles Minsky

Production design
Mark Friedberg

Steven Weisberg

Music and lyrics
Mel Brooks

Susan Stroman

Main cast
Nathan Lane
Matthew Broderick
Uma Thurman
Will Ferrell
Gary Beach
Roger Bart
Eileen Essell
Jon Lovit