IS “CHICAGO” WORTH VISITING?

CRITIC DOCTOR EXAMINES: Rob Blackwelder (splicedwire.com), Phil Hall (filmthreat.com), Peter Travers (rollingstone.com), Stephanie Zacharek (salon.com), Alexander Walker (Evening Standard)
* * * * * out of 5 stars
When the movie “Chicago” ended, I thought my eyes would roll right along with the credits. I mean Richard Gere and Renee Zellweger in a musical? I never saw the Broadway version of “Chicago,” but I did watch this film and if the stage show is anything like it – I’m there!
“Chicago” is about a chorus girl named Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger) who shoots her evil lover. Now in jail, she meets another murderous chorus girl, Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones), and they compete for fame after Hart convinces Kelly’s famous attorney (Richard Gere) to defend her in the limelight of the media. This high energy musical is one part movie and one part stage show – and that equals one delicious recipe for entertainment.
Rob Blackwelder (splicedwire.com) said, “Director Rob Marshall has established such a sublimely vivacious speakeasy atmosphere of hot jazz, cigarette smoke and showgirls that you’ll feel as if you’ve been transported backstage at a posh 1920s cabaret.”
Indeed! What caught my eye in this movie wasn’t just the beauty and talent of Catherine Zeta-Jones, but the amazing performances by other popular actors such as Renee Zellweger, Richard Gere, John C. Reilly and Queen Latifah. Unfortunately, there are critics who take issue with a few performances.
Phil Hall (filmthreat.com) takes aim at some actors. His first target – Renee Zellweger: “Renee Zellweger never gets a handle on her part… She seems savvy when her character is supposed to be clueless and clueless when her character is supposed to be savvy.”

For the love of God, Phil! Zellweger was a big surprise because I didn’t think she had the talent to take on this role. Boy was I clueless! Zellweger balanced out the lows and highs in Roxie Hart’s life wonderfully. I won’t mention the fact she won a Golden Globe Award: “Best Actress” for her performance in this movie. Too, late! I mentioned it. Sorry, Phil.
Hall continues with Catherine Zeta-Jones: “Yes, she is a good actress–but the role of Velma requires a diva, not an actress, and Zeta-Jones lacks the personality and magnetism to make this role work to her advantage.”
Huh? Are you joking? No. You’re not. Listen – I respect and admire the talent displayed by the other actors in the movie, but Zeta-Jones is the standout by far. This woman has class and as Velma – she never for one moment lacked the personality or magnetism this character required. One moment you hate her and the next you could fall down and worship her every move – every move!
Peter Travers (rollingstone.com) got it right: “Leggy Zeta-Jones is so hot in the ‘All That Jazz’ number, she’s flammable.”
Finally, Hall nails Richard Gere: “Even worse is the casting of Billy Flynn…In fairness, he tries hard to make it work, but the role cruelly reveals the highly defined limitations of his talent.”

In fairness, Phil – I agree Gere was an unlikely candidate for this role and I was shocked the first time I saw him in the movie trailer. But the fact remains – the man pulled it off! He can tap dance and sing. I was in pure shock – especially when performing the songs “Razzle Dazzle” and “They Both Reached for the Gun.” Amazing! Gere’s talent may have limits, but here he demonstrated the ability to push himself (and I mean push!) to get the job done. And I won’t mention the fact he won a Golden Globe: “Best Actor” for this role. I did it again! Sorry, Phil.
Ok. So awards mean nothing to me, but they do to the actors who win. Thus I feel good when a movie like this, a challenging endeavor indeed, receives recognition for those who deserve it. I didn’t even want to go watch “Chicago,” but my wife’s persuasion changed all that jazz. I love being surprised by movies and this one floored me. Is there a future for musicals?
Stephanie Zacharek (salon.com) said, “‘Chicago’ has almost single-handedly resurrected the tradition of the movie musical…’ Alexander Walker (Evening Standard) adds, “After this demonstration of what can be done, stars may be ordering their agents, ‘Get me a musical.”
I say bring it on! There is something fun about watching modern-day film actors dancing and singing in movies. I recall watching Woody Allen’s “Everyone Says I Love You” (1996) at “Roger Ebert’s Overlooked Film Festival” (2001) in Urbana, IL and what a refreshing sight to see actors like Edward Norton say lines that lead right into song and dance.
Rob Blackwelder summed “Chicago” up best: “Clever and funny, zestfully paced and edited ingeniously to bring the worlds of reality and fantasy together, every moment of ‘Chicago’ is brilliant, all the way to the closing credits that give all the dancers their due.”
I won’t mention the fact that “Chicago” won a Golden Globe Award for “Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy.” Oops! There I go again.
Sorry, Phil.
– CRITIC DOCTOR




Posted on January 29, 2003 in Features by
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