Cinema Signal:

The New York Times Book of Broadway:
On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century

. "Chicago"

A movie in the musical mode. If you're a fan of Broadway, this is made for you. If you like this cast, you'll be delighted by a whole other side of their talents. If you like a high paced, high kicking good time with singing and dancing, don't stay away.

It's a story about murder and how in 1920's Chicago a pretty girl with a little celebrity can get away with it. In this case, it's cherubic, semi innocent, naive Roxie Hart (Renee Zelwegger), a dance doll trying to manage a stage booking for her hoofing talents. Her career isn't going places, though, and neither is her gloomy marriage to nerdy Amos Hart (John C. Reilly), so when a good looking scuz-ball opportunist says he's going to put in a good word for her with the producers, she falls for it, and for him. But after a good roll in the hay the jerk can't leave her fast enough. When she realizes how he's done nothing but use her, she pops him with her husband's pistol. Uh oh.

Leggy fellow dancer-chanteuse Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones) has a similar story with career difficulties and killer instincts. The two land in jail and are put into further competition for the most successful defense lawyer in all Chicago, Billy Flynn (Richard Gere) who opts to defend them both. But who gets his particular attention at any time is the one who commands the best headlines, for that is his legal stock in trade. He'll get any woman off so long as the public adores and sympathizes with her.

To him, his clients are just dummies and this is manifested in my favorite song in the musical, an almost incomparable "Press Conference Rag", a routine that tells it all about lawyer and client in Flynn's book. If you ever thought there was anything restrained about Zelwegger and/or Gere, fuggedaboudit.

This is magnificent stuff, wildly and integrally joining story progession with the staged numbers that symbiotically transcends it into inspired entertainment. See them dance; see the rhythmic intercutting. See the fabulous lighting and the complex choreographic staging. See these actors like you never saw them before.

Renee Zelwegger, if she's anything, is underrated for her performance. While her early song on the piano recalls Michelle Pfeiffer's far better routine of similar staging in "The Fabulous Baker Boys", she is totally saucy and cool everywhere else, making use of talents that haven't even been hinted at in her dramatic roles.

Gere is equally outstanding with any hint of stiffness or reserve completely out the window and off the stage. He's as exuberant in his enjoyment as anyone on screen. If anything, he's gleeful. Ex-dancer Zeta-Jones shows us what those legs can do when she's not being the bitchy but beautiful competitor. And could you ever imagine the dour, dependable John C. Reilly strutting his stuff across the stage in syncopated song? His revelation of stage talent is alone worth the price of a ticket.

In it all, we perceive the spirit and choreographic genius of the late Bob Fosse who couldn't stand or dance a dull moment. This is a joyful piece of work. Verve and excitement is in every frame, put together lovingly by director Rob Marshall and screenwriter Bill Condon. Award level lighting and cinematography is by Dion Beebe and a similar accomplishment on the editing board is by martin Walsh. All credits come together for a dynamic, if not a dynamite piece of collaboration magic. It's theatre all the way.

You only need to put aside the moral message -- not a pretty one -- and you can escape into its numerous and lavish charms.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Dummy Renee Zelwegger, ventriloquist Richard Gere
"The Press Conference Rag"

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