...And Then... My Pen... Just... Slipped! It Had It Comin'! 'Chicago'
Mar 16, 2003
Review by Vormancian
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:Singing and dancing. Huzzah!
Cons:Lack of pros, and quite frankly, the prose.
The Bottom Line: The movie actually points at the stupidity of its own hype. What else do you need to know?
Recommend this product?
Whatever else you can say about Chicago (and most of what you can say includes the word pretty), its a brave, gutsy film. Its a rare movie that gives you more ammunition by way of included analogy. At one point Renee Zellweger, as our star Roxie Hart, declares that she is unperturbed at not really having an act to take to the stage. After all, she rambles, she will be there, and thats all that matters. People will want to see her, whether there is any value in what she is doing or not. At another point, Richard Gere, as lawyer Billy Flynn, belts out a peppy, little number about giving them the old Razzle Dazzle. You dont need to worry about the truth, or whether there is anything of substance going on, just give them a bunch of flash and glitter.
In a movie that is pretty clearly nothing but a bunch of cotton-candy flash, and sideshow, sleight-of-hand Razzamatazz that expects us to show up (and like it) because of who will be there, thats pretty brave.
You might write it off to coincidence, if not for the fact that it keeps happening. Zellweger and Gere come together in a scene that supposedly shows off Flynns talent as puppet-master, making everyone, Zellweger included, dance however he wants. Its actually a great scene, easily one of the best of the movie, but in the midst of whats happening, it only serves to remind that everyone youre watching dances around like a marionette. Empty characters devoid of any real emotion, or indeed character, flapping and strutting, mouthing lines in a way that could only be called wooden.
Before I go too far, it isnt exactly a bad film. Quite frankly, it isnt exactly a film. I want to say that most of what must make for a great stage experience (my chief reaction at the end was that it must be one hell of a show) was lost in the translation, but there wasnt really any translation. There was really just going to the show with a camera, and then a few minor adjustments afterward. That might be entertainment for some, but its not a movie. The puzzle is why they used all the star power if this was going to be their direction. Apart from the obvious reason that Zellweger warbles at us (people will come just because Im here), it seems that if it isnt going to be a movie anyway, they might have just taken people from Broadway who would have done it all better.
I seem to have taken a turn away from that Before I go too far sentiment, and its hard for me to avoid. The truth is, its not bad. It just isnt particularly good. It does have some decent dance numbers. It also has some impressive set design. It has some catchy songs, and basically, it has some great etc., etc., etc. Etcetera, however, is supposed to mean all those little things that we dont need to mention specifically. The problem is that Chicago has all those little things, but thats all it has. Even in a musical, dance numbers, sets, catchy songs, and all the rest that is good about this movie, are just etcetera. First you need a story and characters that are worth something. Otherwise, youre just a fireworks show.
Chicago does have a story actually, and one that might be fairly interesting if not for the fact that the characters leave you unable to care what happens in the slightest.
Roxie Hart (Zellweger) wants to be a star, and shell do anything to make it happen. Her first example is cheating on her husband with a man who allegedly has connections. On a visit to the supposed connection, Roxie watches the performance of Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Velma is arrested just after the show for killing her sister and her husband.
After a month of sleeping with Roxie, her stock bad guy character beau... I mean, alleged benefactor breaks up with her, and admits he hasnt any connections and just said what needed to be said to get her in bed. Roxie, true to her character (or caricature), kills him.
Roxies husband Amos (John C. Reilly - The Good Girl, Gangs of New York) tries to confess to killing the man after Roxie gives him a story about him being a burglar. He mucks it up when he finally puts two and two together, and Roxie ends up in jail.
The rest of the story follows Roxies time in jail with co-inmate Velma, cellblock matron Mama (Queen Latifah), and the pursuit of the greatest lawyer in the movie Billy Flynn (Gere). We watch as the press serves to get certain women acquitted by hyping interesting stories, and we watch a woman hang because even though shes innocent, she isnt interesting. Its a clever, little ditty about the fickle press, and how people (and other things) are made popular by the press, and how people like whatever the press tells them to, whether theyre good or not... I mean, whether theyre guilty or not. Ahem.
Thats really all there is. We dance in and out of reality when it seems a good time for a dance number, but thats the story. Mama connects inmates with Billy, if they have the money. Billy takes their case, if they have the money. We get to see Velma and Roxie battle to be the most interesting thing in the press, and everything goes to everyones head. Its a movie filled almost entirely with solipsists.
Like the movie itself, the performances arent quite bad exactly, our stars just arent playing characters. Zellweger does a decent job at what singing and dancing she does, which isnt that much, but hers is one of the recently popular, pathetically shallow, self-interested, insane characters. But its not actually one of those characters, its just that caricature. I found Zeta-Jones to be doing a slightly better job, but that might be mainly because she has the advantage of being center-stage during the first number which outshines everything that follows. It would be easier to like her (and perhaps get behind her nomination), were it not for the fact that the name of her character is Supporting Actress Oscar Hopeful.
Richard Gere isnt terrible in the overall, but he is decidedly uneven. At times I thought he was terrible, and at times I thought he was really quite good. He seemed frankly to care about this part (and just as he should) about as much as his character cares about anything.
Queen Latifah and John C. Reilly come closest to what you could actually call acting with a straight face, and any kudos they receive will be well earned. But, even their performances are not remotely Oscar worthy. Reilly gave me one of my few smiles of the film as he sang Mr. Cellophane, telling us of his inability to be seen, and his non-existence. Im Mr. Cellophane, he kept telling me. Youre the only person who isnt, I kept replying.
Oddly enough, Taye Diggs (Brown Sugar, Just a Kiss) is absolutely perfect in his role as The Bandleader. Its actually distracting whenever he comes on the screen, because he seems to have been pasted on from another film (that Im about to mention), and in a good way.
Lucy Liu, whipping by in a storm of bizarre editing, is graciously almost unrecognizable.
Though Im unimpressed, there is something here. It does come through on the flash, and a bit of fun. Several dance numbers are well-executed, and some of the songs will stick in your head. What Chicago seems to want to list as its main assets are the fact that no one has seen a musical in twenty years, and the fact that it gets to attach Bob Fosses name to itself. The bottom line comes down to its having very little else to say for itself, and Ive seen Cabaret. Its at the bare bones level of being a thing that can call itself a musical, or even a movie. Theres no heart. Theres no emotion. Theres no reason to care whats going on. Theres just a great bunch of people going through the motions, and lots of shiny bits.
I recommend seeing it if youve eliminated all other options, which is to say that I don't really.
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