The once-moribund movie musical has been rather spectacularly revived in recent years, but nothing has matched the success of Chicago, Rob Marshall’s eye-popping (and Best Picture-winning) adaptation of the classic Broadway musical originally brought to the stage by Bob Fosse. Adapted by Fosse, Fred Ebb, and John Kander from an earlier play (previously filmed twice, once starring Ginger Rogers), Chicago tells the story of Roxie Hart (Renée Zellweger), a marginally talented Jazz Era wannabe who becomes a Windy City sensation by murdering the duplicitous lover with whom she’d been maintaining an adulterous relationship. While in the Cook County Jail, Roxie grabs more publicity by hiring flamboyant defense lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere), who’s also representing Roxie’s rival, stage star Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Both women expect to be acquitted in their respective murder trials, thereby gleaning enough publicity to further their show-business careers. Director Marshall, a screen newcomer, pulls off the not-inconsiderable feat of making the Fosse stage play cinematic without sacrificing the stylized artificiality of a theatrical presentation. He does this by juxtaposing narrative material -- shot with all due attention paid to accurately replicating period costuming, hairstyles, and settings -- with expressionistic musical numbers performed on smoky, shadowy, sparsely furnished sets. The legendary Kander-Ebb score receives spirited interpretation by the principal players, all of whom do their own singing and dancing. Virtually every number is a delight, beginning with Velma’s signature tune, "All That Jazz," and including the rollicking "When You’re Good to Mama" (sung lustily by Queen Latifah, who’s brilliant as a cheerfully corrupt prison matron), the poignant "Mister Cellophane" (done to a turn by John C. Reilly, playing Roxie’s dimwitted, cuckolded husband), and the showstopping "Cell Block Tango," "We Both Reached for the Gun," and "Razzle Dazzle." Zeta-Jones, known primarily for her dramatic work, sparkles as Velma; her athletic dancing is a joy to behold. Zellweger is appropriately pert and sassy as the amoral Roxie, and she, too, exhibits a hitherto unsuspected flair for Terpsichore. Chicago is a delight from first frame to last. It’s just like the Roaring '20s during which it is set -- loud, flashy, occasionally vulgar, but joyously uninhibited. We guarantee that one viewing won’t be enough; you’ll want to revisit this movie again and again.
If Moulin Rouge heralded the triumphant return of the movie musical, Rob Marshall's rhapsodic rendition of Chicago takes that tendency a welcome two-step further. Using the best capabilities of both stage and screen, Marshall mounts a rousing cinematic achievement that may trump Baz Luhrmann's -- he's filmed a conventionally structured musical that needs no tricks, only its own tight mechanics, to reach across generations of moviegoers. A Broadway chestnut written in the 1970s about the 1920s may not seem ripe with 21st century relevance, but an astonishing cast of performers breathes new excitement into the lyrics and music of John Kander and Fred Ebb and the swagger of playwright/choreographer Bob Fosse. And in Chicago, "performer" is no term of backhanded praise. Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Richard Gere sing every impressive note and cut every impressive groove across each dance floor, their heretofore unknown talents prompting bouts of surprised applause throughout the audience. That they deliver award-worthy acting on top of it is a bonus. But Chicago is as much a triumph of editing as any other attribute. The production numbers run steadily throughout, so Marshall deftly weaves expository passages into the score's quieter moments, the lyrics and images offering a perfect symbiosis of storytelling methods. Martin Walsh's editing also gets its own chance at center stage, notably during the thrilling sequence in which Gere's climactic courtroom speech alternates with footage of the actor engaged in a rapid-fire tap dance. That Chicago also functions as a familiar but juicy indictment of the bloodthirsty media and its fickle readership...well, it leaves a reviewer about as breathless as Zeta-Jones after a spirited romp across the set.
Leggy Zeta-Jones is so hot in the 'All That Jazz' number, she's flammable. And Zellweger defines delicious.
The real star of this movie is the score, as in the songs translate well to film, and it's really well directed.
Delivers the sexy razzle-dazzle that everyone, especially movie musical fans, has been hoping for.
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