In 1924 Chicago, Belva Gaertner, a cabaret singer, allegedly shot a man in her car. Less than a month later, Mrs. Beulah Annan killed a man who “tried to make love to her” then played a foxtrot record for two hours. Both were acquitted after trials which were covered extensively in the local press, notably by Chicago Tribune journalist Maurine Watkins, who eventually adapted her tongue-in-cheek reports into a book and a play. This led to three film versions, a 1928 DeMille production, a 1942 Ginger Rogers vehicle and now this big Miramax movie, which mostly takes off from the 1975 Broadway musical created by legendary choreographer Bob Fosse and composers John Kander and Fred Ebb. Now that’s a lot of source material and back-story, but how does the actual film fare on its own?
(wild bebop beats kick in)
5, 6, 7, 8
“Chicago” is taking over the state!
Aaah, screw it. I was gonna write this review as a song, but by now half the critics are probably doing the same thing. And as I’m hardly passionate about the film (and a lazy, lazy man more often than not anyway), I’ll just get to the point. All this Oscar buzz, “catch the phenomenon”, Best Picture of the Year! buzz is wildly out of proportion. Is “Chicago” fun? Kind of, but no more than Showgirls, to which it’s surprisingly similar. Dumb blonde wants to be a star dancer in big stage shows, she butts heads with a bitchy brunette, spastic dancing and rampant amorality ensue. Add a bunch of murders, musical numbers and a big trial scene and you’ve got “Chicago”.
It’s not that I’m against over-the-top frivolity or musicals in general. I did put Moulin Rouge! at the top of my Top Ten last year, and I love all those classic MGM musicals. But while those had an endearing sense of Technicolor innocence and incredibly graceful dancing by geniuses like Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire, “Chicago” chokes on its own cynicism and while Catherine Zeta-Jones is awesome in a supporting role, the leads are disappointing. Richard Gere is as stiff as ever as sleazy lawyer Billy Boyd, and as adorable as Renee Zellweger can be when she plays the ditzy girl-next-door, a star she is not. She’s not much of a singer or a dancer and she just doesn’t have that incendiary charisma that would make her numbers come alive. She’s not even attractive, she’s way too skinny, she’s more like a teenage boy than a woman. I found her much sexier in Bridget Jones’ Diary, personally.
Rob Marshall’s film is loud and brash, but not particularly inspired. There’s incisive satire of the justice system, the media and showbiz somewhere in there, but even the biggest “Chicago” fans must admit that it’s rather thin. At least they can revel in songs they love… Me? Not so much. Quasi-jazzy ‘20s-style show tunes are not my cup of tea, and while “Cell Block Tango” and “They Both Reached for the Gun” are pretty catchy, you won’t see me running to buy the soundtrack album. For all its pretensions of “razzle-dazzle”, most of “Chicago” is actually hohum-humdrum.