Chicago (2002) / Musical-Drama

MPAA Rated: PG- 13 for sequences of intense sci-fi violence and action, some suggestive material, nudity and language
Running Time: 113 min.

Cast: Renée Zellwegger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, John C. Reilly
Director: Rob Marshall
Screenplay: Bill Condon (based on the play by Maurine Watkins and musical by Bob Foss and Fred Ebb)

Review published December 29, 2002

After hearing about the cast of the lavish musical screen recreation of the acclaimed Bob Fosse production, Chicago, I was very skeptical that such a musical could be pulled off by a cast that isn't particularly known for their vocal and dancing talents. I'm guessing that these weren't the first choices for their roles, and maybe not the second or third either. However, as ready for disappointment as I was expecting to be, it is with a great sense of relief and delight that if Chicago is in any way lacking for talented artists, I didn't see any evidence of this for even a second. Even Richard Gere (Dr. T. and the Women, Autumn in New York), whom I will admit evoked a hearty chuckle when he first started to sing and dance, managed to keep in step with the high level of the material. If anyone had a stand-in for any of their singing or dance moves, they at least did a good job of faking it.

Drawn from the headlines from corruption-plagued Chicago in the 1920s, Chicago mostly revolves around Zellweger's (White Oleander, Bridget Jones's Diary) character, Roxie. Roxie is a housewife bored with her marriage, who frequently dreams of being the biggest star in vaudeville. The current tile for that position belongs to Velma (Zeta-Jones, America's Sweethearts), or at least did until she was arrested for murder. Coincidentally, Roxie does follow in Velma's footsteps, but not in entertainment. Roxie ends up killing a man she is having an affair with when he tries to leave her. With a much-publicized trial, Roxie begins to steal Velma's thunder in the fame department, especially when hotshot lawyer Billy Flynn (Gere) drums up as much hype as he can with the press.

When it comes to modern day movie musicals, there are far more ways to succeed than to fail, as they are already a genre many people consider to be corny and outdated. Moulin Rouge proved that musicals are still a viable format if done with a modern spin, but Chicago proved to be a difficult task, as it has to balance between being hip for today's audiences while still pleasing the true fans of the stage show. Thanks in large part to some incredible direction by Rob Marshall (Memoirs of a Geisha, Nine), CHICAGO is a breathtaking piece of filmmaking, capturing the feeling of a live show while also delivering the whimsical drama with a terrific sense of style. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that the direction is almost flawless, and with the possible exception of finding people even more talented for each role, it's hard to imagine the film doing any better with the material. Yes, it's an ambitious endeavor, but the hard work and preparation pays off dividends and then some.

I don't want to give the impression that the players are miscast in their roles, because there isn't a bad performance in the film. Everyone impresses, and even if actors like Gere and John C. Reilly (Gangs of New York, The Good Girl) don't have the most beautiful voices you've ever heard, at least the songs didn't require The Three Tenors to sing them. Renee Zellweger obviously worked hard on her body to look in shape for the part, although maybe a little too wiry to be the bombshell she is supposed to be. Catherine Zeta-Jones vamps wonderfully in a memorable performance, and even Queen Latifah (Brown Sugar, The Bone Collector) shows that she has the talent to be much more than just a supporting player in throwaway roles. My respect for the talent of everyone involved has definitely gone up.

Chicago is an ambitious work, which usually means that for every person that loves it, there may be a person this does nothing for. I have to say, going into this, I felt I would be one of the latter, not being a fan of musicals or any of the stars. An improbable candidate for the best movie of 2002, but definitely worthy of the title.

Qwipster's rating:

©2002 Vince Leo