A Killer Musical
Prepare to be razzle-dazzled when you see Chicago. As the world's most avid fan of movie musicals (you can look it up), I'm ecstatic about the success of this dynamic film. It's the first musical to win the Best Picture Academy Award since Oliver, way back in the sixties.
Is it better than the most recent big musical, Moulin Rouge? Not to me. But Catherine Zeta-Jones emerges as a force of nature in the role of Velma Kelly, a glamorous vaudeville performer who's sent to prison on a murder charge. She sings, dances, acts up a storm -- and all that jazz. If she hadn't won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, it would have been the worst Academy oversight since Judy Garland's snub for A Star Is Born.
Other highlights of this popular film based on the award-winning musical by John Kander, Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse include: Queen Latifah, as the crooked prison matron, belting out "When You Take Care of Momma;" John C. Reilly, as a gullible husband, warbling a poignant "Mr. Cellophane;" and the incredibly well-choreographed "Cell Block Tango" number.
What doesn't work so well is the casting of Richard Gere as Billy Flynn, the flashy lawyer, and Renee Zellweger as his star-struck client, Roxie Hart. Gere hams it up too much, and Zellweger is out of her element in musical numbers with the terrific Zeta-Jones.
Unfortunately, cutting away too much from the singing and dancing also lessened my enjoyment of this film. I wanted to see those great musical numbers from start to finish! "Then go to the play," one friend advised me. Hmm. Guess she has a point.
Chicago takes us back to the Windy City of 1929. Adventure and opportunity beckon Roxie (Zellweger), who dreams of becoming a celebrated performer like Velma (Zeta-Jones). Fate steps in -- putting the two women together in prison at the same time -- and sets the stage for bitter rivalry over the attentions of their legendary lawyer (Gere). Intrigue, fame, love and betrayal are explored here in song and satire. Although the trial scenes go way over the top, they're never boring.
If you missed Chicago on the big screen, check it out on VHS or DVD (available from Miramax Home Entertainment on August 19, 2003). And, even if you've seen the theatrical release, the DVD is worth a look-see. It contains a number ("Class") performed by Zeta-Jones and Queen Latifah that was left out of the movie as well as an entertaining behind-the-scene featurette and informative commentaries by director Rob Marshall and screenwriter Bob Condon.
(Rated "PG-13" for sexual content and dialogue, violence and thematic elements. DVD bonus features not rated.)