**.9 GM
Starring: Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, Queen Latifah, John C. Reilly


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Maybe I'm on the crack, but isn't part of the point of transferring a big-time Broadway musical to the big screen to make us forget that was written for a stage? You know, take advantage of the fact that the story doesn't have the restrictions of an auditorium and can flourish as much as it needs or wishes? True, there's a lot of flourish here, but it all is shown to be taking place on an actual stage as little fantasy sequences, and while that's a stylistic choice I can understand, it seems a tad off.

That's not the only thing limiting this little soiree back into musicland. It's the story of a little twit named Roxie Hart (Zellweger) who dreams of makin' the big time, kid, yeah, see, myeah, myeah, she wants to be a big star, see, myeah, but she married a hunk o' nothin' an' fell for some sweet nothin's whispered by the chump what sold 'em some furniture, see. Trouble is, sweet nothin's is what they really were, see, cuz he filled 'er full o' dreams, see, dreams about hittin' the big time, see, myeah, but they wuz all empty promises, see, and it broke the little twit's heart 'n' mind, see, myeah, so she up and aced the wise guy, see? A few good slugs right in the ol' gullet, see, for bein' a dirty rat. So she's about to go up the creek, cuz that hunk o' nothin' didn't stick to his story, blew her cover, see, so her only hope is to get this slick-assed fast-food Persian-bazaar huckster of a lawyer, see, by the name o' Billy Flynn (Gere), who builds up a whole facade o' falsehoods and no-goods in order to set her free, and make her the big story in all the big papers, see. Trouble is, that don't sit too well with Ol' Billy Boy's prior case, one miss Velma Kelly (Zeta-Jones), a chickadee what aced her main squeeze and her sister when she caught 'em doin' the splits together, see, myeah. Trouble's a-brewin' in the big city, see, and they just can't help but sing about it. Sing sing sing, chickies, sing yer little hearts out, see, myeah, myeah, myeah.

There will be inevitable comparisons to Moulin Rouge, what with this being another high-profile musical hoping to get award consideration. I hesitate to do it because of the stark differences between the two, and I suppose it would be nice for musicals to become common enough again to not have to compare each one to 'the one from last year.' However, it's almost mandatory because, hey, it's another high-profile gaudy-ass musical hoping to garner up shiny golden things. And so...

Unfair Comparison Numero Uno: The music. "Chicago" suffers in this category because it didn't have the luxury of ripping off EVERY POP ARTIST EVER to comprise its soundtrack - it actually whipped up its own tunes. As admirable as that is, however, the music isn't really that engaging or even really catchy, with notable exceptions being the "He Had It Comin'" murderess melange, John C. Reilly's song and Queen Latifah's number. Nothing all that memorable that you can hum along to. Not that that's a requirement of all music, but out of an actual musical, you want to come out of it singing. Or at least I do.

Somewhat More Fair Comparison Numero Two: The story. While Moulin Rouge was riddled with obnoxious French artist types, those characters had the benefit of being altruistic folks with noble, if pretentious, goals of purity, bohemianism, true love, whatever the hell else Ewan was screaming about. Everyone in "Chicago" is pretty much an asshole, save for Mr. Cellophane Amos (John C. Reilly), who gets the ol' dickshaft for his trouble every time. Roxie's a conniving little nitwit (as likeable as Zellweger can be, it's hard to make this character someone to root for), Velma's a cold bitch (Zeta Jones often plays the awful bitches, and those horrible cell phone commercials drive the point home), Billy's a smarmy little asscrack (I mean, he's Richard-ass Gere for chrissakes), Mama (Queen Latifah) is even kinda shitty, although Queen always makes things cooler. As a consequence of nobody in this film really giving a shit about anyone else, I found it hard to give a shit about them.

It does look fabulous, though. It's a pretty, pretty film, with incredibly intricate detail paid to every frame. Zeta barely looks like Zeta, which is good because if she did, I'd want to jam a cell phone down her throat and say "As you were!" Everyone does an admirable job tacklin' the croonin' chores, reminding us all that most actors have to slog through musical productions when they're up 'n' coming. It's well put-together and there's some fantastic imagery and excellent use of color and flashiness, if you're into that sorta thing. It's real neat to look at.

I guess my problem is that flash is nothing more than smoke and mirrors if you don't care about who's doin' the flashin' and who's gettin' the flashin'.

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