Friday, January 3, 2003

All that spaz

Movie: Chicago

Posted on Fri, Jan 3, 2003 at 4:00 AM

**1/2
Our Rating: 2.50

The accolades currently pouring in for this Fosse-derived piece of claptrap only prove that American musical theater is dead as a doornail. Otherwise, somebody might recognize how badly the dark, cramped, unnecessarily busy "Chicago" shortchanges its source material. OK, so Renée Zellweger racks up some endearing moments as anti-heroine Roxie Hart, the wannabe nightclub siren who murders her lover in a jilted rage, only to find jazz-age celebrity behind bars. The role is admittedly a perfect fit with Zellweger's natural acting style, which falls somewhere to the left of Betty Boop. But barely a musical number survives director Rob Marshall's blinkered insistence on interrupting sung verses with dialogue and cutting hurriedly away from bodies in motion. ("Moulin Rouge" was guilty of editing-bay hyperactivity too, but at least that film knew it was a joke.)

Why the postproduction sleight-of-hand? Look for the answer in a distinctly discomfiting full-body shot of Zellweger, in which she proves herself incapable of even rocking gently back and forth on beat. Oops.

Playing Roxie's attorney and jailhouse rival, respectively, stage veterans Richard Gere and Catherine Zeta-Jones acquit themselves more honorably -- from a hoofing standpoint, that is. Dramatically is another story. How anyone can watch the Buddhist Bore try to feign self-mockery by cavorting in his underwear and not feel profound embarrassment is beyond me. I was hoping he'd bust out in a chorus of "Muskrat Love," because then you'd have the whole gerbil thing in there pitching.

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