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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Chicago

Starring: Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones
Director: Rob Marshall
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 113 Minutes
Release Date: January 2003
Genres: Comedy, Drama, Music

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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 over-the-top.

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

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