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Chicago (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jan 28, 2023



CHICAGO (2002)

Starring Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, Queen Latifah, John C. Reilly, Lucy Liu, Taye Diggs, Colm Feore, Christine Baranski, Domenic West, Susan Misner, Deidre Goodwin, Denise Faye, Ekaterina Chtchelkanova, Chita Rivera and Mýa Harrison.

Screenplay by Bill Condon.

Directed by Rob Marshall.

Distributed by Mirimax Pictures.  113  minutes.  Rated PG-13.

A film version of Bob Fosse’s 1975 musical Chicago has been on the back burner in Hollywood for years.  The 1996 Broadway revival with Bebe Neuwirth made the buzz even bigger, with Madonna and other actresses briefly reported to be involved.  But still, nothing came of these starts, and the film probably owes finally getting made to the popularity of Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge.

The nice surprise is how much better a film Chicago is than Moulin Rouge.  The choreography is strongly translated from the late Fosse’s stage version to the screen, and the songs work in the context of the story in a way the music of Moulin Rouge never really did.  (This project was apparently offered to Luhrmann before he did Moulin, but he demurred, saying he could never do Fosse justice.)

Chicago is a story of music and murder and tabloid fame set in the end of the jazz age, but its story is even more trenchant with today’s everyone’s-a-celebrity mindset.

Renée Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones play Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, singers who get arrested for murder and use the attending celebrity of their trials to further their musical careers.  Velma is already as star, but Roxie is a less talented wanna-be.

However, the tables get turned when Roxie’s story of a proper country girl seduced by jazz and liquor steals the spotlight from flapper Velma’s crime of passion.  They are both represented by silver-tongued lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere), a shameless but charming showman who will do anything to get his clients off… and to keep himself in the headlines.

The biggest surprise here is what a damned good singer and dancer Catherine Zeta-Jones is.  Her take on Velma Kelly is a stunning success, capturing both the hardened bitterness of the woman and the spectacular talent that made her a star to begin with.

Renée Zellweger’s song and dance abilities are more earthbound, she can sing and dance pretty well but not spectacularly.  But that works with her character, a woman of modest talent who is relies on notoriety for a song and dance career because she can’t get it on her talent alone.

Other surprises are the vocals by Queen Latifah as Big Mama, the head of the cell block, and John C. Reilly, who does a surprisingly supple turn on his spotlight tune “Mr. Cellophane.”

But the real show-stopper here is Zeta-Jones ecstatic performance of “And All That Jazz.”  Chicago is the best proof in years that the live-action musical film can still be a vital film genre.  (12/02)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2003 All rights reserved. Posted: 1/26/2003.

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