Stars: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renee Zellweger, Richard Gere, John C. Reilly, Queen Latifah, Christine Baranski
Director: Rob Marshall
Screenwriter: Bill Condon; based on the musical by Bob Fosse and Fred Ebb which was based on the play by Maurine Dallas Watkins

The movie version of Bob Fosse’s 1975 Broadway musical is visually stunning and energetic beyond belief; it segues expertly from one rocking musical number to the next. It’s fun from the get-go with splendid performances from some unexpected talent.

The setting: Prohibition-era Chicago; the main players: star nightclub performer Velma Kelley (Catherine Zeta-Jones), star-hopeful Roxie Hart (Renée Zellweger), and smooth talking attorney Billy Flynn (Richard Gere).

Velma is the city’s top draw but one night she guns down her performance partner-sister and cheating husband after finding them in bed together. Jailed, she becomes an even bigger celebrity, thanks to her “razzle-dazzle-them” attorney Billy Flynn who boasts of never having lost a case involving a dame. Meanwhile, Roxie, who is so desperate for fame, she’s been having an affair with a fast-talking two-timer who admits he’s just been stringing her along and doesn’t really have any show biz connections. He becomes abusive and in an act of rage, Roxie shoots the bum and lands in the same slammer as her idol Velma. With that, and some help from her hapless husband Amos (John C. Reilly) and a greedy Flynn, the cherubic Roxie becomes the new star attraction on the cellblock in a city that is obsessed with celebrity and female murderers. Velma tires to fight her way back into the good graces of Flynn and the fickle press.

The movie utilizes film techniques to its best advantage by interweaving fantasy song and dance numbers, all as imagined by the star-struck Roxie, with the film’s realistic story line. The quicksilver editing enhances the musical numbers. And every song is a knock out. Zeta-Jones proves herself a standout singer-dancer. Her opening song “All That Jazz” kicks off the movie with bang and is an eye opener for her huge musical talent. Zellweger’s appeal lies primarily in her sweet girl image which she manipulates nicely throughout the story, moving deftly from Miss innocent to greedy fiend. She too sparkles in her song and dance numbers. I liked Gere – he doesn’t have a great voice but it hardly mattered because he fit the bill otherwise. I was happily surprised to find that John C. Reilly, who plays the sympathetic schmo of a husband, is quite magical in his lovely little number called “Mr. Cellophane”. Queen Latifa, who plays jail matron, Mama Morton, has a deliciously devilish number that will knock your socks off. And the “Cell Block Tango” is sexy and tantalizing and particularly well translated to film. Also look for: Christine Baranski as reporter Mary Sunshine, Lucy Liu in a quick bit as heiress-murderer Kitty Baxter, Taye Diggs, quite handy as the Bandleader, Colm Feore as prosecutor Martin Harrison and Dominic West as Roxie’s doomed Fred Casely.

Lotta says Chicago is a hit … again! I loved it – every minute of it. Rated PG-13 for sexual content and dialog, some violence and thematic elements

Reviewed: 1/3/02