‘Chicago’ – murder with a little razzle dazzle on Paramount+

Life may be a cabaret, but you really have to put on a show to get away with murder in Chicago (2002).

Bob Fosse’s exuberantly cynical Broadway musical, based on a 1926 play inspired by the real life media circus that fed on a pair of indicted murderesses, is set in the tawdry twenties of sex and sin and bathtub gin. Fosse died before he could bring his stage production, which he created with lyricist and playwright Fred Ebb and composer John Kander, to the screen, but his spirit echoes through the production’s razzle dazzle.

Renee Zellweger is Roxie “I wanna be a star” Hart, a restless young housewife on trial for killing her lover, and Catherine Zeta-Jones is all strutting, sneering diva as “specialty act” star Velma Kelly, a pair of tabloid stories competing for attention. Richard Gere is the sleazily charming snake of a lawyer who juggles his clients according to their media marquee value.

Bill Condon’s screenplay adaptation is deft, smart and punchy, though it lacks the venom of Fosse’s original; Zellweger’s Roxie is not so much the brassy showgirl of Fosse production as a corrupted innocent, lost in her showbiz dreams and hardened over her ordeal. Condon gives director Rob Marshall a structure that manages to straddle modern and classic musical styles. (Again, Fosse’s spirit guides the production: Condon and Marshall turn to the techniques of Cabaret and All That Jazz to solve their adaptation dilemmas.)

A couple of songs were left behind and I find the rat-a-tat editing distracting from the performances and musical numbers. The glitz, the glitter, the mercenary spirit, and the splashy musical numbers, however, give the entire cast their moment in the spotlight, notably Queen Latifah (as the cheerfully corrupt prison matron ‘Mama’ Morton) and sad-sack sucker John C. Reilly (who delivers “Mr. Cellophane” as a pouting hobo-clown). And yes, Zellweger and Gere and Zeta-Jones—everyone, in fact—all do their own singing and dancing, and they acquit themselves admirably.

Christine Baranski plays “sob sister” Mary Sunshine and Lucy Liu, Taye Diggs, Colm Feore, and Dominic West costar.

It won six Oscars, including best picture and best supporting actress for Catherine Zeta-Jones, who also won a BAFTA, and the Director’s Guild of America award for film direction.

Rated PG-13

Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video (plus the Diamond Edition) and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Chicago (Diamond Edition) [Blu-ray+DVD]
Chicago [Blu-ray]
Chicago [DVD]

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The Blu-ray and DVD special edition releases include commentary by director Rob Marshall and screenwriter Bill Condon, a deleted musical number (Catherine Zeta-Jones and Queen Latifah doing “Class,” with optional commentary by Marshall and Condon), and a made-for-TV behind-the-scenes featurette.


Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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