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Move over, Moulin Rouge

January 06, 2003 19:15 IST

Partly raunchy, partly spectacular, partly meditative, and always appealing, Chicago is not only one of the best musicals in the last three decades, it is also a terrific movie about the perversion of  justice and society's craving for spectacular news.Renee Zellweger in Chicago

The movie inspired by a popular musical, which in its revived form has been running on Broadway  for six years, has been enjoying a platform run for two weeks dancing to a terrific $2.1 million at about 70 venues. This week, it will be merrymaking in about 250 theatres, preparing to go full blast by the end of the month.

Musicals are scare these days but whether it is Evita or Moulin Rouge, they have performed well, if not spectacularly. The Madonna-starrer Evita grossed about $125 million worldwide and Moulin Rouge grabbed about $160 million. Each made far bigger money on video and DVD.

The new musical movie, which has received 8 Golden Globe nominations, including the one for Best Musical/Comedy,  Best Director and four acting honors, stands a good chance of outperforming Moulin Rouge.

Though John Kander and Fred Ebb's musical Chicago premiered on Broadway over 26 years ago, it took over two decades to create a movie version. Financiers and studios backed out many times, and the stars who wanted to be in it became either too pricey or developed camera fright. The risk Miramax has taken in financing the $50 million movie was well calculated --- and one would be surprised if the movie won't be a hit worldwide.  

The stage musical, originally directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse, is darker and more electrifying than the movie directed by a relatively new director Rob Marshall. Yet, the film has to be appreciated for its strong performances, its visuals, its energy and for the heart-wrenching emotions it stirs.

It is set in the Prohibition-era Chicago some 80 years ago. Chorus girl Roxie Hart () and her lover Fred (Dominic West) are watching vaudeville star Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones). The two women have no idea their lives will be entwined soon.      

When Fred walks out on her, Roxie shoots him dead in the flat she shares with her  husband Amos (John C Reilly) who seems to be blissfully ignorant of his wife's affair. Though she convinces him to hire a lawyer for her defense, she still ends up in the jail. There, she meets Kelly, who is charged with murder of her faithless husband.

Desperate to avoid the gallows, the two women compete for people who might be able to help them: prison matron Mama Morton (Queen Latifah), slick but celebrated  lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere). And, most important, the press dying for scandalizing and shocking news

Flynn takes up Roxie's case too and soon she is the most famous murderess in town. The two women have to play manipulative roles hoping to survive. You may dislike them in the beginning. But soon you may realise the people who are manipulating them are bigger crooks.

Most of the cast in the movie are not professional singers. Yet, they do a decent job and are reasonably good as performers.

The outstanding work, however, comes from the secondary tier of artists, particularly Latifah who is gutsy and charming as the prison matron who belts out the terrific number, When you're good to mama. And then there is the cuckolded husband who gets to sing one of the most haunting and pathos-filled songs in the film. Amos Hart cannot think that Roxie could have cheated on him. Then he sings Mr Cellophane, about how people see right through him.

Long after the movie is over, you will recall Zellweger, Zeta-Jones and Gere who have been nominated in the best actor category.

But it will be Latifah and Reilly, nominated for the Golden Globe in the supporting actors category,  who will haunt you more.

Arthur J Pais