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USA 2002
Directed by
Rob Marshall
107 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4.5 stars


Synopsis: Chicago, 1929. Roxie Hart (Renée Zellweger) is two-bit floozie who dreams of being on stage and cheats on her husband. She shoots her lover and whilst in the can awaiting trial meets vaudeville star Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who is her ideal. Things are looking bad but life takes a radically different turn when she engages Kelly's lawyer, Billy Flynn (Richard Gere), to defend her.

One glance at the leads in this musical is enough to start warning bells ringing - Richard Gere, Renée Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones - they might collectively have impressive filmic pedigrees but in a musical?. And of the Roaring 20s/Prohibition era Chicago? Please, not another tap-dancing, speak-easies-and-tommy-guns costume extravaganza? Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.

Well, rest easy. Chicago is terrific stuff. Yes, Zeta-Jones is a little thick around the waist and lacks the bounce of a younger woman (wait till she and Zellweger do a double act at the end and you'll see what I mean) and perhaps the rapid editing of Martin Walsh comes to her aid (there may even have been a body double) but she shows that she' a trouper. Zellweger turns in a performance well-worthy of (and she looks like) a young Shirley Maclaine, and Mr Smooth, Richard Gere is excellent as the histrionic Irish lawyer (his initial number is a cracker). It is all very Cabaret, not surprisingly, since the music, book and lyrics are by John Kander and Fred Ebbs who penned that modern classic and Bob Fosse, who directed that film, staged the original 1975 theatre production on which Marshall's film is based. And, closing the loop, Marshall made his theatrical directorial debut on a stage revival of Cabaret (he has also previously directed a forgettable Disney version of Annie).

The opening scene of Chicago could have been a direct quotation from Fosse's film version of Cabaret but thereafter the film develops its own brilliantly inventive identity. There's no need to worry that you'll have seen it all before. The staging of the songs is stunning, including the best prison number this side of Jailhouse Rock. The choreography, also by Marshall, is sensational, with some of the best production numbers I've seen in a musical since the glory days of the genre.

If I have one criticism it is that there is no Sally Bowles/Liza Minnelli equivalent in Chicago. This is not Zellweger's fault (hers is the closest character) so much as that the script/book does not allow it. Unlike Cabaret, the characters here are types. Well-finished, but still types. This means that sometimes Marshall's film feels a little empty, and, at 114 minutes, a little too long. But what the heck, go see it, you're not likely to have as much fun at the movies for a long time.

FYI: For those with a taste for historical information, Chicago is based on the real life Beulah Annan who shot her lover dead in 1924 but was acquitted, becoming the subject of a 1926 hit play by court reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins and was filmed in 1927 as a silent movie and again in 1942 as Roxie Hart with Ginger Rogers in the Zellweger role.




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