Main movies guide
Verdict: A razzle-dazzler.
Details: Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Richard Gere.
Directed by Rob Marshall. Rated PG-13 for sexuality and violence. One
hour, 53 minutes.
See it: Local theaters and showtimes for Chicago
Rate it: Write your own review
"Chicago" first sizzled onstage in 1975, when Bob Fosse decided
to take the sardonic razzmatazz of his Oscar-winning "Cabaret" and wrap it
around a tale of a pair of killer dames in Chicago during the Roaring
Twenties, when the only thing worse than murder was not getting your name on
the front page. Successfully revived in 1996, the musical still proved to be
movie-resistant. Fosse thought about it and passed; he made "All That Jazz"
instead. JLo, Madonna and Goldie Hawn have all been attached to the project
at one time or another.
But now "Chicago" is here, and as they say on Broadway, it’s a helluva
show. Director Rob Marshall, a choreographer ("Damn Yankees") who directed
the TV version of "Annie," has figured out how to make the musical sing and
dance onscreen. He’s staged the picture as if most of the musical numbers
are taking place in the imagination of his hard-luck killer, Roxie
Hart (Renée Zellweger).
The plot is as garishly simple as a tabloid tease. Roxie, who dreams of
being a vaudeville star, plugs her furniture-salesman lover when she learns
his supposed showbiz connections are connected only to his libido. She lands
in prison, where she meets her idol, Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones), an
uber-diva headliner now making headlines for pumping lead into her husband
and her sister when she found them getting cozy. The pair become rivals,
competing for the attention of the clamoring, soulless press and the
attention of their mutual lawyer, a flamboyant slickster named Billy Flynn (Richard
Yes, you read those names correctly. Typically associated with nonmusical
movies, these three stars have turned themselves into
all-singing, all-dancing troupers. Zeta-Jones belts out her numbers like a
Broadway veteran (and looks good doing it). Zellweger sells
her songs with her kewpie-doll looks and her Betty Boop voice. Gere
Queen Latifah plays a manipulative prison matron who shakes her stuff in
the jazzy "When You’re Good to Mama." The ubiquitous and always welcome John
C. Reilly (he’s also in "The Hours" and "Gangs of New York") is Roxie’s poor
schlep of a husband. Turns out, he’s a singer-dancer, too. Donning
Pagliacci whiteface, he effectively soft-shoes through "Mr.
Cellophane," a little ditty about what a nothing he is.
The picture stumbles at first. Though Zeta-Jones does a slam-bang job
with the famous opening number, "All That Jazz," Marshall seems infected
with a bad case of of Fosse-wannabe-ism. The distorted reflections, the
decadent audience, the glitter-and-be-gay cynicism, the whiz-around camera —
does he think "Cabaret" was this little movie no one saw? But soon he
settles down (by the way, that’s his choreography, not Fosse’s) and
"Chicago" gets jazzed on its own juiciness.
There’s one show-stopper after another. "The Cell Block Tango," in which
Roxie and Velma’s Murderers Row colleagues tell their version of how they
landed in jail. (Hilariously, they all claim to be innocent; one lyric goes,
"So I gave him two warning shots ... in the head.") Zellweger plays dummy
to Gere’s ventriloquist in "We Both Reached for the Gun." The courtroom at
Roxie’s trial turns into a three-ring circus, with chorus girls lasciviously
draped over the judge and jury.
Comparisons with last year’s "Moulin Rouge" are inevitable but
misplaced. Baz Luhrmann’s movie was in the tradition of mass musicals like
"Les Miserables," and his imaginative set design was the star. "Chicago"
reaches back to the earlier, more conventional book musicals, like, well,
"Cabaret," and the show itself is the star. There’s a professionalism here
that’s more common in the theater than in movies. Not a nudge or a wink or a
curl of cigarette smoke is out of place.
"Chicago" struts and slithers with the bawdy confidence of a Florenz
Ziegfeld mistress who’s got the lead in one of the impresario’s Broadway
"Follies." And rightly so. Its celebrity-conscious cynicism is more timely
than ever in the wake of O.J., Winona and Court TV. The stars are
sensational (Gere hasn’t been this raffishly charming in years), and the
costumes and sets shimmer and glow.
It’s the kind of showbiz poison valentine that dazzles us with sequins
showering down on our heads, then throws a few of them right in our eyes.
When you leave the theater, you’re all jazzed up and ready to go back for
another dose of razzle-dazzle.
Eleanor Ringel Gillespie, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution