Volume 96, Issue 66
Tuesday, January 28, 2003

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Gin-soaked glamour in Chicago

Starring: Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, John C. Reilly
Directed by: Rob Marshall

By Maggie Wrobel
Gazette Staff

Gazette file photo
"BABY, WELCOME TO BROADWAY!" Renee Zellweger (left) and Richard Gere share a moment in Chicago.
It may come hot on the heels of another star-studded musical film, but Chicago is a dark, breathtaking, gin-soaked orgy that makes Moulin Rouge look about as glamorous and sexy as an elementary school production of Oklahoma.

When a half-naked Catherine Zeta-Jones writhes around the tiny stage of a jazz club within the first five minutes of the picture, you know you're in store for something daring and unique – and Chicago doesn't disappoint.

Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is a big star on Chicago's club circuit, and she becomes an even bigger star after landing in prison for murdering her husband and her sister.

Adulteress and wannabe singer Roxie Hart (Renée Zellweger) kills her lover in a rage of anger and disappointment after he loves her, lies to her and leaves her. She gets sent to jail and, instead of becoming extinguished, her dream of becoming a jazz singer flourishes there with the help of celebrity lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere).

Flynn takes Roxie's case and thrusts her into the media spotlight, which increases her chances of starring in her own vaudeville show after she is freed.

From this point on, Velma and Roxie compete for the attention of both Billy and the media, turning the film into a sparkly circus of desire and manipulation.

The brilliance of the film is found in the underlying social satire that reveals itself through the big, brash song-and-dance sequences. In one such sequence, director Rob Marshall shows how Gere's celebrity lawyer Billy Flynn manipulates the media by casting him as a puppeteer, with Roxie and the eager reporters as marionettes.

This film adaptation of the Broadway musical was plagued with problems from the announcement of its release, as musical theatre fanatics doubted that the renowned stage musical could ever be turned into a film. Also, major Hollywood players from Madonna (who was offered the role of Velma Kelly) to John Travolta (pegged to play Billy Flynn) turned down offers to star in the production, due to concerns about the script. This turn of events now seems like a blessing, as Catherine Zeta-Jones and Richard Gere give the performances of their careers in the roles their peers turned down.

Although Zellweger and Gere are the ones with best actress and actor Golden Globes on their mantels, this seems an outrage, considering the fiery performance of Catherine Zeta-Jones and the brilliantly melancholy turn by John C. Reilly.

Reilly, who stars as Roxie's pitiful husband Amos, evidently has a career goal of starring in every film nominated for best picture on this year's list of Golden Globe nominees (he also stars in The Hours and Gangs of New York). Unfortunately, his talents are shamefully underused in Chicago. Reilly's one solo musical number, a heartbreaking soliloquy entitled "Mr. Cellophane," in which he realizes that Roxie sees him as disposable, stops the dizzying pace of the movie in its tracks and displays his surprising vocal prowess and genuine acting talent.

To her credit, Zellweger works hard to hold her own amidst the other talented performers, but her obvious effort detracts from her performance by making it seem strained at times. Zeta-Jones outshines, outsings and outdances Zellweger in every scene the two women have together, and makes it look absolutely effortless.

As Gere's opportunistic Billy Flynn puts it: "This trial, the whole world – it's all showbusiness," and Chicago proves that there's truly no other business like it.


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