Chicago tells a story of vice, violence, ambition, and corruption–with as much charm as cynicism. Nominated for 13 Academy Awards (including Best Picture, Director, and Adapted Screenplay), this brash movie musical is a far cry from its mushy predecessor, “Moulin Rouge.” Expect no weepy ingnues or doe-eyed pretty boys here; Chicago is a dark world of sultry sirens, crooked lawyers, tabloid journalism, and gritty ambition.
Roxie Hart (Renee Zellwegger) is a naive, starry-eyed chorus girl lured into sin by the evils of jazz-age Chicago’s underground speak-easy culture–or at least, that’s what she wants us to believe.
Incarcerated for the murder of her lying lover, we quickly discover that Roxie is fueled by a cold-hearted lust for fame. With the help of her hapless cuckold of a husband, Amos (John C. Reilly), and corrupt prison matron Big Mama Morton (Queen Latifa), Roxie quickly secures the sure-shot sleazebag Billy Flynn (Richard Gere) as defense attorney… much to the chagrin of fellow inmate Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones).
After killing her adulterous husband and sister in a jealous rage, ex-nightclub sensation Velma was the queen of murderess’ row–and Flynn’s top client–until Roxie came along. Now both women must compete for publicity, representation, and the jury’s good graces in a spectacle that could ultimately make or break their careers.
Oh, and their necks, too.
With the exception of the opening, “All That Jazz” (crooned by a sultry Zeta-Jones), and finale, all musical numbers take place within Roxie’s imagination.
In addition to adding interesting insight onto the character, this aspect marks a refreshing departure from musical theater’s usual tactic of busting into song without reason.
Despite being big-name Hollywood actors, the main cast definitely proves their song and dance abilities. Zellwegger sparkles as the not-so-nave Roxie, with a voice exuding pleasant breathiness.
Gere’s Billy Flynn is the perfect mix of slime and charisma, tap-dancing about the courtroom both literally and figuratively. Queen Latifa adds a delightful bit of burlesque through her Big Mama Morton.
But the real scene-stealer is Zeta-Jones as sultry siren Velma Kelly, belting it out as strongly as any Broadway veteran.
Chicago takes a usually sappy genre and hardens it into a sardonic comment on the relationship between celebrity, publicity, and the judicial system–a theme as applicable today as any–without diminishing its entertainment value.