January 3, 2003 -- "Chicago" is a sexy musical set against a background of murder, nightclubs and media circuses surrounding high-profile trials set in the 1920s. It is based on the Bob Fosse stage show of the same name, but the history of the play goes all the way back to 1926. It has seen several reincarnations as both a play and a movie over the years.
Renée Zellweger of "Nurse Betty" stars as Roxie Hart, a housewife who wants to be a nightclub singer in the worst way. She has an affair with a guy who promises to get her a nightclub act. When she finds out the guy is lying, she kills him. Her case makes a big splash in the newspapers and draws the attention of the city's top trial lawyer, Billy Flynn (Richard Gere of "Unfaithful"), who never loses a case. There is so much publicity surrounding the case, that it looks like Roxie will have no trouble getting into show business if she is found not guilty. Then attention is diverted from her case to that of nightclub star Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones of "Traffic"), who commits a triple murder. That upstages Roxy, so she has to figure out how to get the spotlight back. Yet another new member of death row, Go-To-Hell Kitty (Lucy Liu of "Charlie's Angels"), threatens to steal the spotlight from both Kelly and Roxie.
The song and dance numbers are very well staged, even though Zellweger and Gere are not experienced song and dance people. They fake it well enough to get by, aided by a lot of fancy editing by Martin Walsh ("Iris") and clever choreography. Gere displays a surprisingly good singing voice. Zeta-Jones, who really was a dancer once upon a time, and Queen Latifah, who plays the prison matron, is an experienced singer, both perform well. Zeta-Jones masters the Fosse signature song and dance number "All That Jazz," while Latifah has a show-stopping number of her own, "When You're Good to Mamma."
The idea of the movie is summed up by Billy Flynn when he says, "It's all a circus, kid. A three-ring circus. These trials -- the whole world -- all show business." The trials of O.J. Simpson and Winona Ryder are but a couple of the modern trials that have turned into media circuses, just like the two trials in the 1920s upon which the original play was based. The movie is basically a comedy. We know just about everybody is going to come out singing, dancing and smiling at the end. There is one sad character in the film, however, the much-abused husband of Roxie, Amos Hart (played by the fine character actor John C. Reilly of "Gangs of New York"). The trials are not serious, and neither is the nightclub scene. It is all just a light bit of show business fluff, but it is great to look at and to listen to. Most of the musical numbers are overtly sexual, with Vegas-style showgirls doing the old bump and grind on stage. Outstanding cinematography, production design, set design, choreography and costume design help elevate the slight material. It rates a B+.
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