Starring: Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, Queen Latifah, John C. Reilly, Lucy Liu
Director: Rob Marshall
I'll be the first one to admit that I absolutely despise musicals. I have never accepted the idea that characters could suddenly break into song and dance without looking a little strange. I'll also be the first one to say that those who hate musicals might just like the sexy and jazzy "Chicago," only the second musical I have ever sort-of liked in my short, yet qualified lifetime. This change in opinion, of course, comes courtesy of director Rob Marshall's logical explanation behind all of the spontaneous musical performances: simply, it's all the imagination of the film's main character.
The picture begins with Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones) singing and dancing her way into stardom in the 1920s. From afar, the frisky Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger) watches on as her chances to become a star slowly fade away. In a matter of months, however, Roxie finds herself in jail alongside Velma, both arrested for shooting the men that did them wrong. And with the help of a slick lawyer, Billy Flynn (Richard Gere), the girls devise a plan to get out of nice-lady Mama Thornton's (Queen Latifah) prison by appealing to the mercy of the court, the gossip-hungry tabloids, and their beloved fans.
"Chicago" is filled with so much fun and excitement that I found myself tapping my foot to the beat of the amazing, jazz-infused soundtrack. Renee Zellweger proves her versatility again, thrusting herself into a role that demands excellent singing and dancing, though she is upstaged by the better and more experienced Zeta-Jones, whose flashy moves are a pleasure to watch. Queen Latifah and John C. Reilly also turn in strong supporting performances as the prison chief and Roxie's husband, respectively, and Richard Gere manages to hold his own for a guy who never even put on a pair of tap shoes before agreeing to appear in this film.
Fully aware that most critics loved seeing the old Hollywood musical reinvented, I found it hard to believe that this film could be as great as the first impressions made it seem. But take it from me, one of the few critics that hated the idea coming in and loved it coming out: "Chicago" is every bit as good as advertised.
The new Razzle-Dazzle Edition of "Chicago" is mostly likely more about promoting director Rob Marshall's latest film ("Memoirs of a Geisha") than honoring the Academy Award-winning musical, but it's a pleasant holiday surprise for fans of the film. Presented in a widescreen video transfer and a Dolby Digital 5.1 sound track, the two-disc set also includes a 14-page booklet that acts as a companion to all of the special features that appear across both discs.
The first disc includes the theatrical release of the film, along with an interesting feature commentary track by director Marshall and screenwriter Bill Condon, as well as the deleted musical number "Class," and a 27-minute documentary on bringing the musical to the big screen ("From Stage to Screen: The History of Chicago"). Disc two houses even more goodies, including profiles on production designer John Myhre and costume designer Colleen Atwood, cast/crew impressions of Rob Marshall ("An Intimate Look"), a short featurette on Chita Rivera's cameo in the film, and the VH1 "Behind the Movie" making-of special. These are all nice additions to the material that appeared on the single-disc release a year ago, but the musical performance extras are probably the best thing about re-buying this film on DVD.
Extended performances featuring extra footage and interviews with the cast appear on six numbers including "Cell Block Tango," We Both Reached For the Gun" and "Mister Cellophane," while making-of featurettes entitled "From Start to Finish" are available for Richard Gere's "All I Care About," Renee Zellweger's "Nowadays," and Catherine Zeta-Jones' "All That Jazz." Finally, rehearsal and filming footage is also available for five of the musical performances including "Can't I Do It Alone" and "Hot Honey Rag." Oh, and there's also a short bit of footage from "Dina Shore" with Liza Minnelli and Chita Rivera singing "Nowadays" together that's actually pretty entertaining.