Review by Harvey Karten
4 stars out of 4
What do we want from the moment we're born? Attention from everyone around us.
What do we want when we grow up? Attention from the larger community as well.
What happens when we don't get enough of it? All the things that make life
worth living: envy, betrayal, rivalry, violence, adultery, treachery,
corruption, and greed. In Rob Marshall's movie "Chicago," reinvented from the
Broadway musical that opened June 3, 1975 at the 46th Street Theatre, the lack
of attention leads to murder in this case by a young married woman whose lying
lover makes the fatal mistake of calling off the affair.
"Chicago" hits the ground running and does not let us for a second. There is
not a single dull moment in this lavish musical, which appears certain to be
Oscar-nominated for costumes, makeup and choreography and to be cited for a host
of other statuettes. It doesn't hurt that Rob Marshall ("Annie") has assembled
a vibrant crackerjack cast headed by Renee Zellwegger as Roxie Hart, Richard
Gere as her attorney, Billy Flynn, and Catherine Zeta-Jones as Roxie's rival,
Velma Kelly. The two women, fiercely competing with each other on stage in the
Chicago of the 1920's, give the film its spark, its snap, its
charm. This movie sizzles with Depression-era ambiance, effectively taking-off
on celebrities' pursuit of fame as well as the public's insatiable taste for
tabloid tales of terror.
Scripter Bill Condon strictly follows the arc of the Broadway musical. After
The Band Leader (Taye Diggs) introduces us to the story's themes, Roxie Hart
(Renee Zellweger) pumps bullets into the stomach of her lying lover, Fred Casely
(Dominic West). Her dim-bulb husband, Amos Hart (John C. Reilly), confesses to
the shooting to protect his wife, but soon recants, sending Roxie to jail where
she falls under the protective wing of the matron, Mama Morton (Queen Latifah)
and meets the fellow inmate whose
vaudeville act she adores, Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones). She hires
never-lost-a-case lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere), who suggests that she
advertise the sale of her effects which bring in a tidy sum, since the public
looks at murder as an electrifying form of showbiz. Hitting page one, Roxie
pushes Velma out of the news only to fall out of fashion when a high-class lady,
Kitty (Lacy Liu), is arrested for murder. Using the courtroom strategy urged by
her lawyer, Roxie delivers a smashing defense, paving the way for her to cut a
deal with Velma. The show must go on.
Despite the long run of the Broadway musical, which opened in June 1975
featuring Gwen Verdon as Roxie, Chita Rivera as Velma, and Jerry Orbach as
Billy, "Chicago" does not have a single hummable tune, a "handicap" that
contemporary writers like Stephen Sondheim dismiss as bourgeois. Nor is there
much variety in the songs, each one save "Mr. Cellophane" as strident as the
other. Nonetheless, the current cast pretty much maintains the standards set by
Verdon, Rivera and Orbach while photographer Dion Beebe teams up effectively
with editor Martin Walsh and production designer John Myhre to deliver a steady
stream of showstopping satire, songs and steps. John C. Reilly provides the
film's quieter moments as a man wont to be treated like a cellophane man, as
invisible to his wife as to others.
Richard Gere, attired first in working-class garb per Roxie's fantasy and mostly
in a bespoke, gray, pinstripe suit, shows how the law is little more than
entertainment. "If Jesus had $5000 and came to me today," he boasts, "Things
would have turned out different." The chemistry between Ms. Zellweger and Ms.
Zeta-Jones is palpable, a couple of kittens who first play deadly games with
each other and ultimately team up to stop the show. Queen Latifah exudes "best
supporting actress," making the most of her side role as Mama Matron, popping a
blond wig on her head as homage to the latest fashion begun by Roxie. Colleen
Atwood's costume design and Jordan Samuel's makeup crew help put the movie
The husband of Kitty (Lucy Liu) says to his wife when caught in bed with two
women, "Are you going to believe what you see or what I say?" In reading this
review, don't believe what I say. See the movie. Rob Marshall's picture is the
most exciting musical since "Oklahoma." That's "Chicago."
Copyright © 2002 Harvey Karten