Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Movie Review: Chicago

United States, 2002
U.S. Release Date: 12/25/02 (limited); 1/17/03 (wide)
Running Time: 1:52
Rated: PG-13 (Sensuality, profanity, violence)
Cast: Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, John C. Reilly, Queen Latifa

Director: Rob Marshall
Producers: Marty Richards, Harvey Weinstein
Screenplay: Bill Condon, based on the play by Fred Ebb & Bob Fosse
Music: John Kander, Danny Elfman
Studio: Miramax Films

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After opening in 1975, the Broadway musical Chicago was rewritten in 1996 with a couple of differing numbers. Ever since the success of this revised musical, a film adaptation has been in the works.

Early on, Goldie Hawn and Madonna were cast as the lead roles, but wisely production suddenly stopped. Once the filmmakers observed the magnitude of negative reviews that Madonna received for her role in the major musical flop Evita, they felt that Chicago wasn’t going to work with "The Material Girl" as the lead. Production on the film ceased entirely. The popular jazzy musical was not given another shot at the big screen until choreographer-turned-director Rob Marshall picked up the project. Needless to say, Marshall choreographed a musical gem that earned 13 Oscar nominations and won six of the categories, including the Best Picture of 2002.

Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger) is your everyday housewife, who is married to a hardworking loving man named Amos (John C. Reilly). Roxie is striving to become a vaudeville star just like Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones), the successful singer/dancer whom Roxie sees perform. This young wannabe would do just about anything to get her chance to make it big—including sleep with other men and even kill.

After shooting her lover, who promised to help her get her singing career up and running, she finds herself on the ladies’ death row with none other than Velma Kelly. Both women are then represented by the undefeated lawyer, Billy Flynn (Richard Gere), whose tactics include giving them continuous media coverage and promoting their charm and innocence. Roxie plans to use her newly acquired fame to hit the stage and become the biggest name in the lights, but Flynn must first “razzle-dazzle” his way out of another one in order to save her from being hanged.

The musical numbers build into the story’s structure like side notes to the script; they blend in smoothly with the dialogue and acting. With tunes such as “All That Jazz”, “Cell Block Tango”, “Mister Cellophane”, and “We Both Reached for the Gun” coming unexpectedly from actors with surprising splendid voices, Chicago is the musical America has been waiting to see for more than a decade. Excellent choreography, camera work, and lighting add to a super screenplay with top-notch performances, to make a picture deserving of its Best Picture nomination. At the same time, The Pianist should have easily trumped Chicago for the title of the Best Picture.

One can only hope that more well-written musicals with more surprise vocal performances, will follow in Chicago’s wake. Although it is not as masterful and entrancing as some of the late 50’s and early 60’s musicals (Singin’ in the Rain, My Fair Lady, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, and West Side Story), Chicago is still inspirational, fun, and nicely done. (*** out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2005