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A.J.'s Rating: 5 Spotlights (& all that jazz)
Directed By:  Rob Marshall
Written By:  Maurine Dallas Watkins (play) / Fred Ebb, Bob Fosse (musical Chicago)
Bill Condon  (screenplay)
Starring:  RENEE ZELLWEGER, Richard Gere, Catherine Zeta-Jones, John C. Reilly, Queen Latifah
Rated:  PG-13 (adult themes)
Running Time:  113 Min.
    If I had to choose my least favorite genre of Hollywood movie, I would have to say that it's a toss-up between 'musicals' and 'Pauly Shore comedies'.  Once Pauly decides to star in his own musical, I'll finally have a definitive answer.  Chicago is a big-budget Hollywood musical.  Luckily, Pauly isn't in it.

    Why don't I care for most musicals?  I think it has something to do with characters who break into song for little or no reason.  Silly, huh?  I prefer musicals that incorporate songs into the story, not just to provide a time-filling production number that simply repeats plot information the audience already knows (see Grease or West Side Story), but that actually help to further the plot.  In addition, having musical numbers take place on an actual stage is always a plus in my book (see O' Brother Where Art Thou?, The Blues Brothers and Moulin Rouge!). That way, there isn't the awkward 'listen everyone, for I am about to sing' moment which I absolutely loathe (see Monty Python and the Holy Grail)!
    Just in case I haven't been completely clear on the subject of Hollywood musicals, I'm going to tell you my favorite.   It's Blazing Saddles.  Okay, now that I've alienated every musical-lover out there, on with the review!

    Taking place in the mid-1920's, Chicago, based on the hit Broadway show, is the story of Roxie Hart, played by Renee Zellweger.  Renee was fantastic in this movie, and I'm not just saying that because she's my favorite actress.  Roxie dreams of stage stardom, and looks up to Velma Kelly, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones.  Velma was half of a popular sister act, that is, until she bumped off the other half.  Now Velma's up for murder, and, thanks to the press, is even more popular than ever.  Soon, Roxie finds herself following in her idol's footsteps in more ways than one.  Looks like she's gonna need a good lawyer!  Enter high-priced defense attorney Billy Flynn, played to rakish perfection by Richard Gere.  Billy Flynn has never lost a case.  He's so slick, he could get Al Capone a tax refund, and an apology from J. Edgar Hoover!
    In fact, everyone in this movie was perfect.  If I had my way, I'd give Oscars to the entire cast.  Richard Gere will most likely be up for Best Actor.  Renee Zellweger had better be up for Best Actress, or I may just boycott the Academy this year!  Also turning in a fine performance was Queen Latifah as 'Momma', cell-block matron to Chicago's most dangerous women.
    What I enjoyed most about this musical was how the songs were used.  While some of the production numbers happen on the stage, where they should be, most of the numbers are interpretations of the actual events unfolding, as filtered through Roxie's starry-eyed aspirations for the spotlight.  A very original and clever way of doing things, and an incredibly successful plot device, as well!  Only one number falls short, the rather clunky lament, 'Mr. Cellophane'.  Coincidently, that's also the only number that doesn't follow the above format.  It seems that it was only included to give John C. Reilly, who plays Roxie's ever-faithful husband, Amos, his due time at center stage.  Well deserved, though, for Reilly's overall performance was also stellar.  Since I've mentioned everyone else, I suppose it's only fair to say that Catherine Zeta-Jones also shined in this movie.  Her performance was so good that I've nearly forgiven her for making all of those annoying cell phone commercials.  Add to the great performances and tightly-paced storytelling some wonderfully wry songs and brilliant dance choreography, and you have one fine musical.  My kind of film, Chicago is! 
    So, it looks like I've found another musical to add to my list of really good ones.  Chicago is my new second-favorite!  Now, if I could only get that damn 'Cellblock Tango' out of my head...
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Review published
January 12, 2003
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