Their collective achievement is herculean considering the risks they took

CHICAGO

An Illusion review by Joan Ellis


                None of the hype prepared me for the surprise of  “Chicago.” A stylized echo from that crime ridden city during Prohibition, the movie whirrs and exults, without drawing a breath, on the wings of three astonishing performances.  Did everyone else know that Richard Gere, Renee Zellweger, and Catherine Zeta-Jones could sing and dance - or that they are possessed of the kind of high fallutin spirits that enable to deliver a smash?  Well, now we know.   

                Zeta-Jones opens with pizzazz that tells us she is Velma, songbird jailed for murder, a fact that we believe immediately.  In spite of her classic face framed by a terrific flapper hairdo, she has the tough, wily aura of a Capone era nightclub dame.   

                Enter Renee Zellweger as Roxie, who shoots her lover and joins Velma on murderer’s row.  Roxie’s journey from aspiring chorus girl to star of Chicago’s murder case of the year is a big achievement for Renee Zellweger who makes Roxie her own by cocking her head, donning a pout and a bob, and doing it with style.  The two women will vie for the attention and services of the city’s legendary criminal lawyer, Billy Flynn (Richard Gere).  We are now set up for what is certainly the most spectacular entrance of this movie year. 

                Richard Gere explodes onto the screen and lifts the entire movie up in his arms.  Unexpectedly slick and light on his feet, he sings and dances his way through Roxie’s trial as if he has just emerged from a bucket of charm.  The man has reached somewhere inside himself for just the kind of twinkle required by a crooked Prohibition lawyer out to plant himself and his client on the front pages of the Chicago tabloids.

                Rob Marshall’s directing pace never allows us to slow down long enough to know when we are watching Roxie’s fantasies or the unfolding reality, and that’s just fine, involved as we are in the non-stop musical chaos.  If none of the three stars is possessed of the easy, natural grace of a born dancer, their collective achievement is herculean considering the risk they took in stepping into new territory.    

                The natural grace award goes to John C. Reilly who dazzles the audience with “Mr. Cellophane,” a song and dance comment on his own invisibility as Roxie’s gullible husband.  An updating of the most fluid, delayed movements of breakdancing, the number stops the show.  

                Richard Gere’s best musical moment comes when he manipulates a group of abstract puppets in the same way he is pulling Roxie’s strings, mouthing their words just as he will mouth Roxie’s testimony to carry her through the murder trial. 

                The movie is full of snap, crackle, and pop, but you might want to think twice about taking younger kids to a film whose dominant imagery is of corpses, hangings, and gunshots.  On second thought, they see that every day on TV – without the flamboyant talents of this cast and crew.    

 


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