Razzle Dazzle 'Em
One of the songs in "Chicago" has the lyrics "Give 'em the old razzle dazzle. Razzle dazzle 'em" and right from the opening scenes that is what it does as it whips you up with a sexily dressed Catherine Zeta-Jones singing "And All That Jazz" and takes you on a non stop ride of song and some dance leaving you feeling exhausted by the time the credits roll. To call it energetic would be a lie because "Chicago" is more than energetic it is a full on onslaught of snappy musical numbers, style and quite often women looking very sexy. But is it any good, well yes and no because there is no denying that "Chicago" is eye catching, rarely dull and features some terrific, iconic songs and equally good performances; but rarely does it allow you to catch your breath, delivering one energetic number after another which ends up leaving you feeling like you've run a marathon.
Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger - Appaloosa) dreams of being on the stage and ends up having an affair with Fred Casely (Dominic West) believing he will get her a shot at stardom. Unfortunately for Fred when he tells her he won't she kills him and so Roxie finds herself in prison with other women who have killed including Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones - America's Sweethearts) who killed her husband and sister when she discovered them in bed together. With both facing the noose if proven guilty both employ suave lawyer and master manipulator Billy Flynn (Richard Gere - Unfaithful) to represent them and find themselves becoming rivals for the spot light, desperately trying to get inches in the press in order to get the public on their side.
Now it has to be said that "Chicago" is a musical made in the modern style where we have song after song with the occasional moment of story telling encroaching in the gaps in between, very different in style to the golden age of musicals and very different to how it all started. Whilst it was the 1996 Broadway revival which lead to the musical being turned into a movie the original "Chicago" musical came in the 1970s thanks to the wonderful Bob Fosse. But in turn Bob Fosse's "Chicago" is based upon a 1926 stage play written by reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins which was based upon the true stories of two women acquitted of murder and had been used as the basis of the 1942 movie "Roxie Hart" which starred Ginger Kelly.
Anyway back to this latest version of "Chicago" well as already mentioned it is in the style of one song after another with the occasional moment of story telling in between. Actually that's a bit of a lie as these modern musicals basically use song to tell the story and so whilst there are some scenes where we have the story being acted out most of it is told with song. It does mean that unlike the musicals of 50 years ago you do have to pay attention to every moment because a line in a song could tell you something important.
As for the actual storyline well it is a strangely amusing tale because whilst we have two women in jail for murder it is a story of fleeting fame. Thanks to expert manipulator, I mean lawyer, Billy Flynn Roxie and Velma go the very public root of trying to get off of their charges of murder. We watch as Flynn makes them popular with the public, making them look like the victim and so making the judges decision only one option in order not to upset the public.
But then as we watch Roxie go from obscurity to stardom thanks to Flynn we also see the other side as Velma becomes jealous as no one is interested in her. And so we have this almost parable style story about how fame can be fleeting, where you are used and spat out.
But to be really honest whilst the storyline to "Chicago" is entertaining it is all about the energy, the song and some dance. Right from that opening onslaught as a sexy Catherine Zeta-Jones sings "And All That Jazz" it is one big musical number after another all of which are powerful and stylish. Even the seemingly quieter moments or at least not the big songs such as Amos singing "Mr. Cellophane" is still quite energetic. And whilst there is no denying that the music, the lyrics, the occasional dancing and the classy styling is eye catching it is also exhausting. For me it goes a bit too far as every single musical number almost seems over produced, too powerful and perfect.
But for a movie which is so full on you have to admire the performances because they certainly don't let the side down. From the minute we clap eyes on Catherine Zeta-Jones as the sexy Velma Kelly you can't take your eyes off of her, she delivers the singing, the sexiness and also the jealous manipulative nature of her character to perfection. And Renée Zellweger as Roxie Hart matches her blow for blow delivering everything which Zeta-Jones does but also more as she gives Roxie a touch of vulnerability. And keeping up with the good performances both John C. Reilly and Queen Latifah deliver equally entertaining performances. Then there is Richard Gere as Billy Flynn and shall we say his first musical number is less than inspiring but then Gere gets better and better especially when it comes to the court scene as he manipulates everyone in the courtroom with some "Razzle Dazzle".
What this all boils down to is that "Chicago" is entertaining, it is non stop musical fun which whips you up and takes you along on a ride of one big song after another. But whilst it looks great, sounds great, has some surprisingly good performances it is all a little bit exhausting as it ends up being an onslaught of over produced musical numbers.