Black strips of cloth barely cover heaving breasts. Eager hands part slender thighs and fumble to untie garters. Dancers weave together in a dizzying array of midriffs, gams, bums and tits.
The film version of the Fred Ebb musical pulses with the rhythm of sweaty, backroom sex and hot jazz in 1920s Chicago. Take the ride of your life with this funny, big, seductive spectacle.
In this world, there are no modest misses. The ladies are as dangerous as they are alluring, hungry to exploit any chance for fame and fortune. Unhappily married Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger) succumbs easily to the promises of show-business connections fed to her by furniture salesman Fred Casely (Dominic West). When Roxie learns Fred has been lying to her, she shoots him in a rage. All too soon she joins notorious murderess and stage star Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones) in prison, to await trial.
Zellweger easily captures this grasping floozy, with just a curl of her bee-stung lips and her eyes alternately vacant and cunning. Roxie may be a bit dim-witted, but she latches onto an opportunity to survive like a feral animal. Zellweger's got the ideal rounded Jazz Age face; it's just a shame she dieted away any hint of a curve from the rest of her body. Her bony chest is more painful to look at than appealing.
Zeta-Jones, fortunately, is womanly enough for both of them, with a shiny flapper haircut and piles of soft lingerie to clothe her fabulous figure. Richard Gere is the perfect choice to round out the trio as Lawyer Billy Flynn, who plies his suave charm on jury members and newspapermen alike. All three do their own singing and dancing as if they'd been born to the stage.
The rest of the star-studded cast is excellent. Queen Latifah is a pleasure to watch as Matron "Mama'' Morton, who oversees the jail with a keen eye to her own profit. Justice isn't even a consideration. John C. Reilly gives us Roxie's long-suffering husband Amos, the only possibly sympathetic character in the movie. Fans of Lucy Liu and Mya will be disappointed to learn they're on screen for barely a minute each.
Director Rob Marshall keeps the action moving, skillfully splicing musical numbers with dialogue to spin the story forward. Marshall captures the excited, greedy feel of the musical with just the flash we need in a big-budget film. The music creates the mood needed to pull off this illusion of glamour and glitz -- both the original score and Danny Elfman's additional compositions.
This is a world about opportunism and bribery, about fleeting fame and the lengths to which amoral women will go to hold onto it. The aggressive sexuality of all the women on murderess row is frightening and captivating, as is the notion that Roxie and Velma can succeed in show business based on their bloody notoriety.
Some very funny moments and snappy dialogue offer a break from the cold cynicism of the premise that courts will set free murderesses who get big headlines. Once the kiddies start sporting Roxie dolls and the young ladies copy her hairstyle, it's clear nobody has escaped corruption. You may not learn any moral lessons from Chicago, but I promise you'll enjoy yourself.