Oh, she's gonna shimmy till her garters
--All That Jazz
Length: 107 Minutes
Starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renée Zellweger, Richard Gere, John C. Reilly, Queen Latifah, Christine Baranski, Taye Diggs, Dominic West, Lucy Liu.
Directed by Rob Marshall and produced by Marty Richards and Harvey Weinstein. Written by Bill Condon.
A musical replete with murder, corruption, adultery and greed, Chicago first hit the Broadway stage in 1975 with tremendous success. It was revived on the stage in 1996, and again onto the silver screen through the direction of Rob Marshall in 2003. Musicals-turned-movies these days are rare and difficult to pull off, but Marshall manages to keep the razzle-dazzle of the show well intact.
Guess where the show takes place. 1920s Chicago is in full roaring Fitzgeraldian mode; the liquor is pouring and jazz, as opposed to today's heavy metal, is the decadent music blamed for youthful debauchery. Roxie Hart, (Renée Zellweger), cheats on her husband with a man she believes will get her the vaudeville act she'd always longed for. After he callously ends their affair, Roxie promptly shoots the man dead. Quickly carted off to prison, Roxie meets her rival Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones) there, who also managed to cap a few peeps in a jealous rage. The two compete for the attention of their superstar lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere), but Roxie always manages to steal the show.
Zellweger's performance is nicely done; her singing
voice proved surprisingly decent in tunes like "Funny Hunny" and "Nowadays." Zeta-Jones' sultry performance of jazz diva Velma Kelly is noticeably stronger, however. Her former work in musical theater is quite apparent as she flits across the screen in finely executed dance moves. Her dark and curvy character and Zellweger's blonde Betty Boop persona seem to highlight their rivalry, yet also exhibits how two very different showgirls can intrigue an audience in their disgusting devotion to vanity. Both actresses do the beloved musical justice.
I found it difficult at first to watch Gere portray a
dirty lawyer who sings and dances with such gusto; a
risky role for an actor whose dynamics only seem to
shift from serious to more serious in most of his
prior work. Can Gere's face really contort with glee
like that? After several scenes the initial shock of
Gere's drastically different role dissipates, and
eventually he steals the limelight in a memorable
courtroom tap dance.
Queen Latifah helps carry the film also as a hard
prison matron who'll play sweet if a cell dweller
offers her cash. Latifah's powerful voice makes for a
stellar performance of the sultry "When You're Good to
Mama." John C. Reilly, who never seems to give a poor
performance in movies these days, makes an appearance
as Roxie's pitiful husband who can't seem to
understand how vile his wife is.
Maintaining a smooth flow in a musical on film — from
dance number to action scene to ballad — is critical but not an easy task. In Chicago, the feat is done. The song and dance routines are created in Roxie's imagination as
she battles to save herself from a hanging, which
allows for unique scene transitions and somehow makes
the whole story a bit more plausible. With all its sparkling color and glamour glutton showgirls, the movie might best be described as what you'd get if you chucked "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" and Baz Luhrmann in a mixing bowl.
At the very beginning, Zeta-Jones growls and prowls in a
wonderful rendition of "All That Jazz," a sound
opening for a fun, glitter-smattered show. It's quite pleasing to discover several prominent film actors have more talent to them than just looking sexy. The two
main drawbacks of Chicago would only be the
unchallenging recycled plot, and the fact that those
who don't like musicals will not suddenly change their
mind with this one. Not a life-changer. It's just a simple feel-good
Rated: PG-13 for sexuality and violence