The new screen version of The Producers doesn’t establish itself as a distinguished entity from the 1968 film. But it doesn’t disgrace the original either. The success of The Producers on Broadway made the film cash-in inevitable. Unlike when Little Shop of Horrors took the same path, the result of a movie inspiring a stage musical inspiring a movie version of that musical doesn’t result in an inspired product. When it works (which is more than half the time), it’s because the source material is funny and flamboyant, and the movie is competent in recreating those tones. Yet it’s the Mel Brooks-directed original that’s faster and more energetic. The added musical numbers vary in quality and extend the film’s length by almost an hour, wearing down the last half. The long and tiring “Keep it Gay” segment is the most evidently in need of some editing. These flourishes help cast The Producers as a glitzy Christmastime event, when it would be better served as a focused romp. As co-conspirator producers who plan to strike it rich by asking for too much backing on a play that they’ve calculated to be an enormous bomb, Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane nicely fill the shoes of Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel. They go a long way in helping the farcical spirit, as does Will Ferrell as the deranged pigeon-owning neo-Nazi responsible for writing their certified Broadway disaster “Springtime For Hitler.” Spike Lee already used The Producers template for his filmed essay on media race portrayals, Bamboozled. In the 21st century, it’s no longer subversive or shocking to merely suggest that there’s a mass audience for exploitation. That’s why the new Producers doesn’t build interestingly on the first film. It’s best at sticking to the old script.
Wolf Creek is basically Hostel without a sense of humour. The Australian horror hit is about three 20-something road-trippers (two girls and a guy) whose car breaks down in the outback. A local hunter (John Jarratt) offers to help them. He’s good with knives. It’s probably a bad sign when he casually mentions that kangaroos are overpopulating the region, just like tourists. Labelling movies misogynistic when they terrorize female characters has become a standard response. But when filmmakers try to manipulate audience reactions, it’s less likely they choose female victims because they hate them than because they’re more readily sympathetic. After all, how scary would it be to watch Wolf Creek’s Crocodile Dundee slasher go up against Vin Diesel? Still, that doesn’t excuse that there’s little of note in Wolf Creek beyond extended scenes of torture. It’s of a new line of prominent horror films made by directors who like the genre more than they understand it. That’s how Wolf Creek appeals mainly to base instinct: Once you wade through a deathly long set-up, it delivers the cinematic equivalent of watching a public execution, and then it’s over. The class collision of ignorant tourists with violent hillbillies isn’t novel for anyone who’s seen The Hills Have Eyes, Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Wrong Turn. Wolf Creek is just more self-important — calling attention to this familiar horror staple without expanding on it. The “true story” marketing hook — it’s loosely based on both Australia’s “Backpacker Murders” and Falconio cases — only wishes to distract from the formula. (“That shit really happened too, cuz!” a newly enlightened teen informed his friend upon exiting the theatre.) What the story’s predictability serves in fatalistic dread is substantial only on occasion. When the abominable killer is searching for the girls, clinging to the edge of a cliff beneath him, Wolf Creek cuts through the pretense and shock value to deliver solid tension and submerge in the helplessness of its rural landscape. For a brief moment, it’s a great horror movie.
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