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Chicago (2002)
Rated PG13

Starring: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renée Zellweger, and Richard Gere

Rating:
****1/2
out of
*****

As much as I love movies, musicals had really been one of the few types of film I try to avoid seeing. Last year's excellent Moulin Rouge made me less anxious about seeing a big-screen musical. Chicago, which has been nominated for 13 Academy Awards, made me even less anxious. It's a damn good film.

Roxie Hart (Renée Zellweger) is an aspiring singer and dancer. When she kills her lover, she initially gets her husband (John C. Reilly) to take the blame. When that idea falls through, she goes to jail. Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a star singer and dancer, kills her husband and her sister in a jealous rage and goes to jail. Both women, under different circumstances, hire Billy Flynn (Richard Gere), a high-priced but effectively sleazy lawyer, to take their cases. Billy's never lost a case involving a woman accused of murder.

The story is told in a straightforward way, but musical numbers that take place on a stage in Roxie's imagination advance key plot points in a bold and big way. With clever editing and self-assured performances from all of the lead actors, the numbers are fun and highly entertaining.

For those that doubt that the main performers did their own song-and-dance work, it's the fact that they did that makes the film so entertaining. Seeing Richard Gere tap dance during a number where he's "tap-dancing" around key evidence in a court case is one of the highlights of the year. Sure, he's obviously not a professional dancer, but he knows his limitations and delivers his work with a wink-and-a-smile charm that's incredibly infectious. This attitude permeates the entire movie. When everyone's having fun on-screen, it's hard not to have fun watching them.

That said, the truly stand-out numbers in the film are not delivered by the lead actors. John C. Reilly's "Mr. Cellophane" is a sad and moving bit of pathos that's topped off with a clown get-up that just works perfectly. Queen Latifah hits a home run with "When You're Good to Mama" which just drips with confidence. (It's too bad that her next screen performance will be in the sure-to-disappoint Steve Martin comedy, Bringing Down the House.)

Chicago is a definite good time. Just make sure you see it in a theater that has a good sound system. It really deserves to be seen and heard.

Trivia: The director wanted Catherine Zeta-Jones to wear her natural long hair in the movie, but she insisted on the short bob. She explained to People Magazine that she didn't want her hair to fall over her face and give people a reason to doubt that she did all the dancing herself. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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