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I’ve heard “Chicago” being called a musical for people who hates musical, which may be true because, considering my own insane aversion to musicals of all forms (i.e. “Moulin Rouge”), I was pleasantly entertained by Rob Marshall’s movie adaptation of the popular stage play.
Essentially about two fame-seeking women who will go to any length to be in the spotlight, “Chicago” would last about 20 minutes if you took out all the sing and dance numbers. Renee Zellweger is Roxie Hart, a no-talent tart with dreams of stardom, and Catherine Zeta-Jones is Velma Kelly, an established, but falling, star. The two meet in prison after they’ve committed their own individual murder (in Velma’s case, it was a double homicide). Roxie dreams of being like Velma, unaware of the older woman’s attempts to cling to stardom. All Roxie can see is the fame and glitz and none of the pitfalls.
The two ladies hire the same man to defend them in court. Billy Flynn (Richard Gere) is Chicago’s most notorious criminal lawyer, and will defend anyone for $5000. Soon, Flynn has re-shaped Roxie’s life to fit the innocent ing’nue image he’s given her, which sort of leave Roxie’s devoted husband Amos (John C. Reilly) out in the cold, although the doofus doesn’t seem to realize it. A lot of musical numbers later, the film ends with Roxie and Velma teaming up to reach the stardom they both desire so much, without having learned a single lesson from their ordeals.
If you like musicals, I’m sure “Chicago” is the ultimate film for you. Director Rob Marshall has infused the movie with colorful and elaborate sing-and-dance sequences. At one point or another, everyone in the film, from the two female leads to Gere to co-star Queen Latifah (as a prison warden), gets their chance to sing ’20s-inspired numbers in a club setting. Even if you’re like me and think musicals are for snobby wealthy elites with too much time and money on their hands, the musical numbers in “Chicago” is pretty darn entertaining. It better be, because the movie is nothing but musical numbers.
But of course “Chicago” isn’t a serious film. Like most musicals, it is highly exaggerated in everything it does, from the acting to the storyline to the characters. The 1920s Chicago setting is nicely rendered, equaling the look of “Road to Perdition” in set designs and CGI backdrop. For the most part the film remains indoors (re: soundstage), which means every scene has the potential to suddenly transform into a stage or another set more appropriate for colorful dance sequences with the help of creative lightning and a well-placed spotlight.
It’s worth noting to the potential male viewers out there that each dance number is covered from end to end in scantily clad females twisting and gyrating and spreading their legs in every which direction, and doing it all very enthusiastically. Which leads me to Catherine Zeta-Jones (“Traffic”), who is without a doubt the sexiest leading lady to grace movie screens in a long time. Co-leading lady Renee Zellweger (“Jerry Maguire”) has never struck me as sexy, and that doesn’t change with this movie. Is it me or is Renee Zellweger playing Renee Zellweger here, too? Of the many famous co-stars, Lucy Liu (“Ballistic”) is the most memorable as a feisty heiress who murders her cheating husband and then his two girlfriends. She promptly hires Billy Flynn, of course.
If you like musicals you’ll love “Chicago.” Even if you don’t particular care for the genre, you may still like “Chicago.” When all else fails, there’s all those gyrating female flesh to occupy your time.
Rob Marshall (director)
CAST: Ren’e Zellweger …. Roxanne Hart
Catherine Zeta-Jones …. Velma Kelly
Richard Gere …. Billy Flynn
Queen Latifah …. Matron Morton