A review of “Chicago” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: *** 1/2

Rating: PG-13 for language, violence, sexuality

Run Time: 1 hour, 47 minutes

 

 

Who says that murder isn’t art?  That’s the premise behind “Chicago”, the show-stopping stage play turned big screen experience that has treacherous energy coursing through its veins.

Surprising performances by Richard Gere, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Renee Zellweger punctuate this sensational re-enactment of a scandalous collection of murders in 1920s Windy City.  Zeta-Jones is Velma Kelly, a vixenish gin-joint song-and-dance girl doing time for allegedly murdering her sister and husband (discovered in a clandestine clinch).  Joining her in the clink is Roxie Hart (Zellweger), who murdered her two-timing lover in a fit of rage. 

It’s Billy Flynn (Gere) to the rescue, a scheister lawyer whose principles rest firmly on a foundation of cash and headlines.  With the understanding that the public can’t resist a reformed sinner, Flynn packages Hart into the Mary Pickford of criminals, a pert bundle of homicidal innocence and peter pan collars. 

An all-star cast razzle-dazzles their way through a sparkling array of lively dance numbers, somehow maintaining a narrative flow while entertaining the troops.  John C. Reilly (as Hart’s schlubby hubby Amos) brings down the house with a poignant rendition of “Mr. Cellophane Man”.  On the opposite side of the spectrum are the merry murderesses of the pokey performing their “Cell Block Tango”, a sultry, black-leather-and-lace number that defies criticism and heralds a woman’s right to choose….to murder her philandering lover.

Big screen musicals are so few and far between that comparisons to last year’s “Moulin Rouge” are inevitable.  Though Kidman has the edge when it comes to sheer power of performance, both the zaftig Zeta-Jones and scrawny Zellweger can hold their heads high, shimmying and crooning with gusto (and on key). Gere is slightly miscast, but overcomes his apparent discomfort with engaging humor.  Jumpy, stylistic editing serves to enhance the dark undertones of the plot, and Danny Elfman’s original score (supporting Bob Fosse’s innovative musical) is a perfect match.

Snappy, sexy, and compulsively toe-tapping, “Chicago” is all that jazz, and how.