Chicago (2002)
Directed by Rob Marshall

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * ½

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After Roxie Hart (Renée Zellweger), an aspiring jazz dancer living in Prohibition era Chicago, is imprisoned for murdering her lover in a fit of rage, she convinces her gullible but loyal husband, Amos (John C. Reilly), to hire Billy Flynn (Richard Gere), a flashy attorney, to defend her. He then manipulates the media to make Roxie a celebrity, although her fame quickly annoys another of Flynn's clients, another dancer, Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who is in prison for killing her husband and her sister.

Rob Marshall's filmed version of Bob Fosse's musical Chicago, while hardly without flaws, is, nonetheless, wickedly fun throughout its duration.

The story the director tells is absolutely filled with vile, self-serving, and utterly reprehensible characters, who, instead of being punished for their sins, prosper because of them. Roxie, though she uses her husband, commits adultery and murder, and is concerned only about her own welfare, gains the celebrity she so desires. Flynn, while he is completely uninterested in helping others, except insofar as he profits from doing so, and gleefully manipulates the truth and subverts the legal system, is entirely successful in all his endeavors. Even Velma profits from her cruelty and treachery. In fact, the only person who suffers and loses in the film is its one decent, caring, and likeable character, Amos, who is victimized and humiliated in virtually every scene in which he appears.

Happily, such an approach allows the viewer to relish the delicious nastiness of an amoral world, the faults and injustices of which are clearly meant to mock those of our own. By so associating the failings actually observed in life with the events depicted in the film, Chicago leads the viewer to remember and re-experience the emotions previously aroused by similar occurrences known from reality so that he feels those same emotions these happenings aroused when witnessing the events depicted in the movie. Chicago is, as a result, often deeply affecting and poignantly satirical.

What is more, the musical numbers with which the film is frequently punctuated are all well performed and add to its charm. The dancing is skillfully choreographed and the songs are pleasant to hear and alive with often pleasingly cruel or witty lyrics.

Unfortunately, these routines are rarely complemented by interesting sets. In one, for instance, Roxie dances before a completely black background. In a second, performed in her prison block by her fellow inmates, these women appear in front of minimalist, stagey representations of jail cells, and, in many others, the entertainers are simply placed on a stage before an audience. While I did enjoy all of these numbers, I usually felt as though I was merely watching a filmed play rather than a movie.

Although there is much in Chicago that will please the viewer, the film never rises above the ordinary. I cannot, consequently, say that I was truly awed by it. Chicago is always, however, an entertaining work suffused with a captivatingly wicked sense of humor.

Review by Keith Allen

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