The legendary stage musical, based on a 1926 play by Maurine Watkins, gets an old-fashioned movie-musical treatment, tweaked and polished to the tastes of contemporary moviegoers. When this dark, casually cynical valentine to a pair of media-wise chippies who get away with murder opened in 1975, it was more admired than embraced, despite its Bob Fosse choreography, and music and lyrics by the celebrated team of John Kander and Fred Ebb; the friendlier A Chorus Line swept the Tonys and became Broaway's longest-running musical. Twenty-seven years later, Chicago's sting is gone (the 1996 theatrical revival opened in the wake of O.J. Simpson's sensational murder trial) and its knowing depiction of sin, spin and fleeting celebrity seems matter-of-fact, almost quaint. But Broadway choreographer-director Rob Marshall's feature film debut is spectacular and sleekly entertaining, given considerable luster by an all-star cast who really can sing and dance. The plot is straightforward: one-time chorine Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger), who dreams of stardom but settled for marriage to dependable Amos (John C. Reilly), shoots the bounder (Dominic West) who seduced her with the promise of showbiz introductions then callously dumped her before delivering. Taken to Cook County Jail, Roxie finds herself on murderess's row, where slinky hoofer Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who murdered her husband and sister when she caught them in the wrong kind of act, is the undisputed star. Roxie's loyal husband hires flamboyant criminal attorney Billy Flynn (Richard Gere), who assures his guilty-as-sin clients that if Jesus had been tried in Chicago and ponied up $5000 for legal representation, things would have turned out better. Flynn gives Roxie a whole new image — the wronged naif — and soon Velma's vanished from the news. But the trial still looms, and there's always a glamorous new murderess waiting in the wings. Numbers have been trimmed and Fosse's choreography replaced by Marshall's (whose "Cell Block Tango" is a highlight), but the movie's spirit is close to the show's and unlike Baz Luhrmann (MOULIN ROUGE), Marshall generally opts for letting the musical numbers unfold in long shot to creating movement through editing (ironically, the method Fosse favored). Marshall and screenwriter Bill Condon's solution to the fact that contemporary audiences are generally uncomfortable with classical movie conventions is both straightforward and savvy — in fact, it's the same strategy used by modern-day Bollywood films. Non-musical scenes that move the narrative forward are staged realistically, while the lavish production numbers reflect the star-struck imagination of Roxie, for whom all the world ought to be a stage.
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- Released: 2002
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: The legendary stage musical, based on a 1926 play by Maurine Watkins, gets an old-fashioned movie-musical treatment, tweaked and polished to the tastes of contemporary moviegoers. When this dark, casually cynical valentine to a pair of media-wise chippies… (more)