USA 2002 : Rob Marshall : 113mins

In collaboration with his partner-in-crime, editor Martin Walsh (who must have been paid per cut), Marshall does his best to ruin nearly all of the numerous musical numbers that punctuate the action. He cuts away from the dramatic action to ‘fantasy’ song sequences which are little more than filmed versions of the theatrical equivalents. This is distracting at best (the opening ‘All that Jazz’ is tolerable) and raucously messy at worst (Gere’s big courtroom/tap-dance section** and the girls’ closing duo are chaotic disaster-zones.)

And even at 113 minutes, Chicago feels crudely trimmed down from its proper length – fans of the stage-show, and of Queen Latifah, will be baffled at the omission of what’s widely regarded as Morton’s (and the show’s) best number, ‘Class’, while admirers of Lucy Liu lured in by seeing her name on the posters will be queuing up for their money back, so brief is her screen time as a third killer-babe. Christine Baranski, however, makes every second count as conniving reporter Mary Sunshine – well-named, since she lights up the picture whenever she’s on-screen (which is way too little).

Perhaps Miramax’s legendary Oscar-fever is to blame – the bigger these women’s roles, the less chance Zeta-Jones will have of snagging the Supporting Actress nomination for which she’s so shrewdly campaigning. The wily studio’s strategies have even seen film itself emerging as front-runner for Best Picture – which would be almost as absurd as Marshall and/or Walsh sneaking onto their respective five-name shortlist: this is a so-so, intermittently enjoyable, but very old-fashioned kind of affair.

Then again, this means Chicago will probably prove much more to the suitable to the tastes of the Academy gerontocracy than, say, last year’s vastly superior Moulin Rouge. Like Lars Von Trier with Dancer in the Dark (from which Chicago steals a prison-cell scene), Baz Luhrmann was trying to push the movie musical into bold new areas. This is the counter-attack: Marshall’s attempt to drag the genre, high-kicking and screaming, back where mainstream Hollywood mistakenly believes it belongs.

14th January, 2003
(seen Warner Village, Newcastle, 12th January)


** Gere should be used to this treatment whenever he steps into the musical genre: “The narrative is a mess despite the simplistic twinning of tales, and – worse yet – keeps interrupting the heart-stopping hoofing.” Brian Case, Time Out magazine review of The Cotton Club, 1984, starring Richard Gere.


by Neil Young