Sunday, June 01, 2008

Movie review: Chicago

This movie opens with a close-up of an eye...focusing deep into the iris and going to black before snapping out again with a bang, a show-stopping hot jazz number that brings the audience up-to-speed with the "story so far." Velma Kelly (the uber-fabulous Catherine Zeta-Jones), fresh from killing her husband and sister, who she found together in flagrante delicto, is headlining at a local club when she's arrested for their murder. The cross-cuts to Roxie Hart's (Renee Zellweger) affair with a furniture salesman mirror the action on-stage. Where Velma's act begins after her murder, it ends with Roxie's. Roxie had been with her boyfriend for his contacts in the jazz club world. He'd been with her for the fun. When she finds out he's been stringing her along...pop goes the weasel, and the story gets started.

The opening shot places us in the scheme of the movie...inside the mind and through the eyes of the dreamer and schemer Roxie Hart, a tough, low-class wannabe with a cherubic face and a modicum of talent. She relates her surroundings to herself and her dream of being a star. Everything translates to a big stage number, mostly centering on herself.

Velma, queen bee of the cell block, is quickly overtaken by Roxie as the "new blood." Both of them vie for the attention of razzle-dazzle lawyer Billy Flynn, played brilliantly by Richard Gere, whose method for acquittal involves high-profile theatrics.

The acting is spot-on. Catherine Zeta-Jones is perfectly cast as Velma. I'm not a big Renee Zellweger fan, but she does very well here as the self-centered but vacuous kewpie doll, Roxie. I actually preferred her in Cold Mountain, though. Gere is fantastic, but to me the real stand-out in this movie is John C. Reilly as Amos, the well-meaning, not-so-smart schlub with the misfortune of being married to Roxie. He was robbed of the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role, and his Mr. Cellophane could bring tears to your eyes. Another standout is Ekaterina Chtchelkanova as the Hunyak.

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