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Chicago is sexy.
Catherine Zeta-Jones’ haircut is sexy. Renee Zellweger’s puckered pout is sexy. Richard Gere’s tap-dance, Queen Latifah’s swagger, the kid who sold me Milk Dud™’s, the guy who kicked the back of my seat, all dead sexy.
The story is simple. It’s the 1920’s, all gin and jazz and fishnets. Aspiring showgirl Roxie Hart (Zellweger) kills her lover. Showgirl extraordinaire Velma Kelly (Zeta-Jones) kills her cheating husband and sister. Both end up in the joint. Both seek the help of undefeated, unethical shyster Billy Flynn (Gere).
Roxie’s fame skyrockets as Billy tries her case in the tabloids. Velma’s fame wilts as the new scandal boils. The money shot is a trial, a grand song and dance, and more fishnets.
Chicago is, of course, the film version of the famous Bob Fosse Broadway musical. As such, comparisons between stage and film are inevitable. However, the only exposure I have to the Broadway version is staring at the billboard with all the dancers on it in Times Square for an hour waiting in line for tickets to something else. In addition, the only familiarity I have to Bob Fosse’s work is the video for Cold Hearted Snake by Paula Abdul; which is akin to saying “Yes, I know The Barber Of Seville, I watch Bugs Bunny”.
Comparisons notwithstanding, the film performances glitter and resonate. The energy is palpable. Zeta-Jones’ voice is strong, her dancing light and elegantly aggressive. The same for Zellweger, who also moves easily between vamp and goody-two-shoes. Gere tap-dances with a surprising casual ease. They all have great asses.
The breakout performances come from Queen Latifah and John C. Reilly. Latifah‘s prison matron Mama Morton has just enough sleaze and cleavage. Reilly (whose face you know, if not name) is Amos Hart, Roxie’s fall-guy/sad-sack husband. He shines during his rendition of Mr. Cellophane, which is perfectly forlorn and resigned. Neither Latifah nor Reilly have asses to write home about.
The supporting dancers are sinewy and dangerous. They gleefully slither. They smirk. They can all kick higher than I could kick if you removed my leg and simply held it over your head. It’s frankly disturbing.
My personal dance credentials are limited to being able to do a pretty decent “skank”. I also rely heavily on air-guitar. My take on the choreography, therefore, would be less than erudite. However, I can say with confidence that the standout dance sequence involves marionette strings and Zellweger as a ventriloquist’s doll. It’s very similar to a recurring dream I have involving Christina Ricci, but this is neither the time nor place.
The film, at times, puts to good use a slightly sinister, cabaret feeling. I’m not sure whom to credit; it may be the director, the cinematographer, the production designer, or the guy who made the flask I brought with me, from which I sipped liberally the first 46 minutes. You pick.
Chicago’s underlying themes of ”the nature of celebrity” and “media-circus-as-industry” are quite durable. Is there a line between infamy and fame? Do we, as the consumptive public, even care about such a line? Is there a line to the men’s room? That 86-ounce Diet Coke shot right through me. Other major themes considered are “hot dancer chicks straddling straight-back chairs” and “women’s prisons in 1920 are nicer than my apartment.” Art is timeless.
The only flaws I point out are minor. Richard Gere, while a fine voice, does not lip-sync as well as his co-stars. Or better yet, he looks like he lip-syncs the most. Also, keep in mind this ain’t Law and Order, this is song and dance, not cops and robbers. Leave your know-it-all attorney friend at home. But, don’t leave him at your home, because he is more than likely cheating with your wife. Another flaw was that I did not bring enough whiskey, but how can I blame the director for that? Like this, “Thanks Rob Marshall, you jackass.”
I had a good time seeing Chicago. I was mildly inebriated and earning serious “boyfriend points” (as I did with Moulin Rouge and Kandahar), and honestly would never have gone on my own volition. Still, I enjoyed myself.
With the right song and dance, you can get away with murder.
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