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Movie Review by:
Jim "Good Old JR" Rutkowski
Directed by:
Rob Marshall
Written by:
Bill Condon, Fred Ebb (from the source material by Bob Fosse)
Renee Zelleweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere
Running time:
100 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sexual content and dialogue, violence and thematic elements
 "...the musical Chicago isn't much of a movie after all..."
The long-germinating movie of the musical Chicago isn't much of a movie after all, machine-gun edits not withstanding. This Jazz Age tale of tabloid fame and death-row femmes fatales-a Kander-Ebb-Fosse production in 1975 before its current hit revival-has been filmed by musical theater veteran Rob Marshall with extreme reverence for its vaudeville roots. The numbers all still play out on a stage, interspersed in a narrative that remains the same stale blast of self-congratulating showbiz cynicism: After shooting her no-good lover, ambitious chorus girl Roxie Hart (Renée Zellweger) retains trickster lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere) and supplants showgirl and fellow inmate Velma Kelly (adept hoofer Catherine Zeta-Jones) as gutter-press fodder. Hold the front page: Fame is ephemeral and the media is venal.
Roxie does not have a single redeeming quality in her character, the way she is written. Neither does Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones), the sexy and sophisticated showgirl who is jailed alongside Roxie for a murder of her own. And Billy the Lawyer? He's the devil incarnate, exploiting his clients to stuff his own wallet, inventing scandal and spectacle wherever he goes. The movie gets most of its fun out of letting these villains flaunt their devilry in song and dance. And in the end, Roxie, her lawyer, and her idol find ways to use each other in power plays that will not only help them escape capital punishment... it will make them successful stars.

Perhaps the stage show reflects some convictions about right and wrong. Perhaps it leaves us with a sense of tragedy for Roxie's abused husband(John Reilly). The movie does not. It makes him too much of a sap for us to care. We don't see what he sees in Roxie, whereas in Moulin Rouge we could see the sadness in Nicole Kidman's showgirl, a regret that exposed a redeemable soul. Roxie has sold her soul to the devil before Chicago even begins, so we must sit and endure one dirty deed after another without a flinch of conscience.

Zellweger has gone about the business of making her Roxie huggable-which is as exhausting for us as it is for her. The most ballyhooed revamp, Marshall's plausibility-enhancing stratagem (an odd concern for a musical), explains away the song-and-dance routines as Roxie's fantasies. It's hardly a novel trick, borrowed from Cabaret (which situated the numbers exclusively in the Kit Kat Klub) and all-in-the-mind meta-musicals like Pennies From Heaven and Dancer in the Dark. (Sticklers for psychological realism should note that last year's Buffy episode "Once More, With Feeling" holds the gold standard-the break-into-song compulsion is chalked up to demonic possession.) You'd think that using Roxie's reveries as a framing device would facilitate more elastic flights of fancy; instead, they're all confined to a black-box stage. Didn't she see Moulin Rouge? It's hard not to wish that Chicago had taken place inside a more imaginative head.
This movie's popularity proves its own point: Give them a heaping plate of empty, wicked, self-congratulatory revelry, and everybody - especially Oscar - will cheer and beg for more.

It's easy not to expect much from a novice director like Mark Steven Johnson, who was responsible for the lackluster adaptation of John Irving's (Simon Birch) and penned both Grumpy Old Men films, but this is a major step forward. Daredevil is an exciting, passionately executed flick that has the moxie to call out the critics of major action pictures. Dependent on minimal special effects (except for the occasional flying/jumping far variety), the character is the thing here. This is Matt Murdock's story and it's only an introduction into what I hope will be a further string of adventures. With more efforts like Daredevil, the superhero franchises may go through its greatest run yet.

CHICAGO © 2002 Miramax Films
All Rights Reserved

Review © 2009 Alternate Reality, Inc.



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