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cast: Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, Queen Latifah, and Lucy Liu

director: Rob Marshall

113 minutes (12) 2002
Miramax VHS rental or retail
Also available to rent or buy on DVD
[released 4 August]

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Emma French
Given the global success of the stage show, an audience for a big screen adaptation might have seemed guaranteed, but transferring musicals to film successfully is a notoriously tricky process. Though this sexy, witty version makes the transition comfortably, in places it retains the feel of a live stage show recorded on film, and lacks the dazzling homage to specifically cinematic resources of, say, Moulin Rouge.
   Though the plaudits rained upon the actors in this film are merited, they are playing such iconic parts that it would be hard for them not to hit the right notes. Whilst she has never looked less attractive, Renee Zellweger does have the opportunity to prove herself a versatile actress as Roxie Hart. Catherine Zeta-Jones is cast more to type as the arrogant, sultry Velma Kelly: most of her characters have the same hard edge and egomaniacal tendencies, from her role in The Mask Of Zorro to her cameo in High Fidelity. There is a nice vocal contrast between the two actresses, with Zeta-Jones' deep tone and Zellweger's breathy, hushed delivery complementing each other well in both speech and song.
   Queen Latifah's maternal sexiness is perfect for the part of Mama, and she is often guilty of stealing the scene. Appearances by the wonderful Lucy Liu (as Kitty Baxter) and Taye Diggs (playing the bandleader) are so brief that the actors seem wasted and overlooked. Conversely, the miscasting of Richard Gere as the sleazy lawyer Billy Flynn overstretches his lightweight acting talents. He is charmless and smarmy rather than smooth talking and persuasive. Stripped to his underwear with a cloth cap on in one disturbing dance routine, he resembles a stripper from The Full Monty, with the heartthrob star of Pretty Woman and An Officer And A Gentleman nowhere to be seen.
   There is an undeniable problem in Chicago on both stage and screen of a lack of sympathy for the main characters and a stylised attitude to violence. There is no getting away from the fact that Roxie Hart is a shallow, callous, celebrity-obsessed manipulator, Velma Kelly is an unapologetic double murderess and Billy Flint is a supremely cynical buck-chasing creep. Coupled with the superficiality of the episodic plot, too often the film treads water between the big song and dance routines.
   At its most successful, the film is incredibly atmospheric, combining the feel of the stage musical with a dark, gothic ambience. It is lavishly ambitious in scope, with superb production standards, and in an age of CGI, it is good to see some old world glamour. Even so, the film's essentially amoral universe prevents this film from being a truly uplifting experience.
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