Starring Renée ZellwegerDirected by Rob Marshall108 minutesRated PG-13
As I write this, everyone involved with 2002's Best Picture, Chicago, is still basking in a post-Academy Award glow, and the songs they brought to life are still stuck in my head, thirty-six hours after seeing one of the year's most acclaimed films. I unhesitatingly admit that musicals are not my favorite type of movie, but this one has wedged itself so firmly into my cranium that no amount of serious-NPR-war-coverage can pry it out.
Chicago, while not exactly a light movie, is a welcome contrast to the barrage of explosions and death currently plastered across our small screens. In the grand tradition of the movies, it's an escape. For 113 minutes, audiences are invited into the sexy, jazz-crazy world of the Windy City in the 1920's, where publicity hounds Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart (Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renée Zellweger, respectively) duke it out for the title of Most Popular Murderess.
In this film, plot is just an excuse for the music. Roxie is a wannabe diva who idolizes the streetwise performer Velma. Both shoot men who have lied to them and end up in jail, where they have seemingly unlimited access to smoky
eyeliner and short skirts. Corrupt prison matron "Mama" Morton (Queen Latifah, who can probably sing circles around anybody else in the cast) puts the two gun molls in touch with fast-talking lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere), who proceeds to play them-and the juries sitting at their trials-like fiddles.
Story is probably the weakest part of the film. It's hard to feel sympathetic for Velma and Roxie, who are such unrepentant famewhores that in modern times they would be on American Idol. Billy Flynn is an ambulance chaser before there were really ambulances, and the female felons who sing about their crimes in the stunningly choreographed "Cell Block Tango" are poster girls for poor impulse control. At least the movie doesn't try to force us to like the characters, focusing instead on the music.
There's been a lot of hype about Zeta-Jones, Zellweger and Gere doing their own singing and dancing. All three hold their own and, perhaps more importantly, look like they are having tons of fun strutting and fretting their hours upon the stage. Every big production number (and they are all big production numbers) has been carefully designed for maximum pizzazz. Chicago must've had the biggest garter and cigarette budget since Moulin Rouge, and along with a love for everything decadent, the two musicals share a penchant for sight gags. Chicago gets in its potshots with Orwellian slogans on the prison walls and sticking Queen Latifah in a blond finger-curled wig, jumping on the Roxie's-new-coif bandwagon. The supporting cast is first-rate, from ubiquitous 2002 movie sidekick John C. Reilly to singer Mya, last seen chirping about ghetto superstars.
Overall, Chicago is an excellent film, deserving of all the critical acclaim and probably of all its numerous Oscars. If you've seen it already and could use a little relief from all that is going on in the world, you might want to see it again. If you haven't seen it yet, it's cheaper than a vacation, and you'll leave the theater with a smile on your face and some random, infectious lyric permanently lodged in your brain.