An exuberant adaptation of a hit Broadway musical, Chicago gives the phrase "getting away with murder" a delightful twist and a spin. Superbly choreographed fantasy song and dance sequences, that are alternately slick and sensual, are intertwined with the gritty reality of sex, scandal and the fickleness of fame.
Roxie (Renee Zellwegger) a hopeful starlet, dreams of following in the footsteps of her idol, the sultry Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones). With the quirky twist of events that follow, Roxie is not only catapulted into the limelight but she also kicks Velma out of her position as top dog. Betrayed by her lover, Roxie commits a murder of passion and ends up in prison where Velma, too, is incarcerated for killing her adulterous husband and sister.
With a bit of help from the flamboyant "Mama" Morton (Queen Latifah), the prison warden and her own feminine wiles, Roxie engages the attention of Billy Flynn (Richard Gere), a smooth talking lawyer known for his uncanny ability to milk public sympathy even for the most hardened criminals. In a wickedly humorous manner, Roxie manages to upstage Velma by audaciously using Velma’s courtroom histrionics to play the part of the hapless penitent. The gross travesty of justice that ensues just proves Flynn’s words when he tells Roxie "It’s all a circus kid. A three-ring circus. These trials - the whole world - all show business."
And "Chicago" is definitely showbiz at its best. Zellweger proves her incredible versatility once again as she effortlessly shifts to and fro from the kittenish ingénue to the manipulative minx. Catherine Zeta-Jones exudes glamour and sophistication with her show stopping performance of "All that Jazz". While Gere oozes smarminess and his ventriloquist number is thoroughly entertaining, he somehow lacks the verve of the two actresses.
Rather than just relying on its star-studded cast to make it a runaway success, it is "Chicago"’s irreverent look at murder and manipulation of the media that makes it refreshingly different from romantic, and often sappy, musicals. The inmates' rendition of jailhouse jazz - lithe bodies in lycra and latex - in particular epitomizes the essence of this sexy and often darkly humorous satire. All in all, the movie gives its audience more than just the "old razzle-dazzle".This article was first published on 21 Mar 2003.