Sunday, November 18, 2012

#825. Chicago (2002)

Directed By: Rob Marshall

Starring: Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere

Tag line: "In a city where everyone loves a legend, there's only room for one"

Trivia:  Renée Zellweger had no singing or dancing training prior to this film

Motion picture musicals staged a comeback of sorts in the early part of the new millennium, with both Moulin Rouge (in 2001) and Chicago (the following year) being nominated for Best Picture by the Academy. Unfortunately, Moulin Rouge came up empty, save a pair of awards for Costume and Set Design. As for Chicago, it received a whopping 13 nominations, walking away with 6 Oscars, including Best Supporting Actress (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Best Picture. Watch the film, and you’ll understand why; Chicago is a rollicking good time!

It’s the Jazz Age, and housewife Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger) wants to be a star. She’s married to the kind yet dim-witted Amos (John C. Reilly), and is having an affair with Fred Casely (Dominic West) because he’s promised to help her break into show biz. But things don’t go Roxie’s way. For one, her favorite stage performer, the lovely Velma Kelly (Zeta-Jones), the hottest act in all of Chicago, has just been arrested for murdering both her husband and sister, who she caught together in a “compromising” position. On top of that, Fred dumps Roxie, telling her he doesn’t really have any connections in the business, and that she’ll never be a star. In a fit of rage, Roxie shoots Fred dead, and when Amos finally figures out what happened, he turns his wife over to the police. Locked away in prison, Roxie, with the help of the facility’s warden, Mama Morton (Queen Latifah), hires hot-shot lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere) to represent her, a shifty shyster who claims that, for $5,000, he can get you acquitted no matter what the crime.

The problem is, Billy also represents Velma Kelly, who’s none too happy to hear her lawyer has turned his attentions away from her to concentrate on a lowly housewife. But then, Roxie doesn’t stay lowly for long. With Billy’s assistance, she becomes the talk of the town, and Chicago’s brightest new star. This pits Velma and Roxie against one another, each vying for the ever-important spotlight, with Billy in the middle of it all, collecting a boatload of cash.

Chicago is loads of fun from start to finish. Each new “event” in the film is given its own musical number, my favorite being the “Cell Block Tango”, a flashy scene set in prison that features a collection of female criminals, including Zeta-Jones’ Velma, recounting their crimes (and in a very non-repentant manner). Even John C. Reilly gets to belt out his own tune (the melancholy “Mr. Cellophane”). As for the leads, Zeta-Jones and Zellweger are positively alluring, but the show is stolen by Gere, whose quick banter is matched only by his dance moves (as seen in his “Tap Dancing Around the Witness” sequence). The combination of great set pieces and impressive period costumes are merely the icing on the very tasty, very entertaining cake that is Chicago, a movie that’ll leave you breathless.

… And smiling!

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