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The plot in a nutshell
This is Chicago in the roaring 20'2 - a town in a nation where scandal and infamy are gold, but fleeting.  Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger) is a small time performer, dreaming to hit the big time like Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta Jones).  But her husband isn't too bright, rich or particularly handsome, and her boyfriend turns out to be a liar.  She thought he'd get her into show biz, but he just wanted in her.  When she learns he's lying to her, she shoots him in a crime of passion, and ends up just like Velma, who a year previous had shot her own husband and sister when she found them together.

Now both incarcerated, facing the death penalty, and both with the same shrewd, conniving defense attorney Billy Flynn, they strive for both freedom and fame against a backdrop of music and dance.  Bob Fosse would be proud.

Relatively Spoiler Free Thoughts
Let's get this straight right away - this is a musical.  This means that the story is told and progressed through the use of song and dance.  If you have never liked a musical in your entire life, hated everyone you were ever forced to sit through, then you won't like this film.  You can stop reading, you can stop wondering, and you can skip over it at the local Blockbuster.

However, if you have found at least some musicals entertaining in the past, then you really should give this film a chance.  It won far too many Oscars last year, including best picture, and while I wouldn't have awarded it that highly had I been asked (and oddly enough, no one did ask), it is certainly an enjoyable and entertaining film.

The story is simple enough, as is the usual case for musicals.  Roxie wants to be the big star like Velma.  Then Velma finds her sister - who is also the other half of her act - doing the splits with her husband.  She kills them both, and goes off to death row.  Then sometime later, Roxie learns that her no good boyfriend has been lying to her all along, stringing her along with promises of stardom when he's a nobody himself.  She pulls a Velma and guns him down, to be arrested in what seems to be a pretty open and shut case of murder.

She gets the famous defense attorney, Billy Flynn (who's never lost a case concerning a beautiful woman), and the rest of the film covers her attempts to prove how sweet she really is, and keep her face on the front page until the trial.  Her and Velma are both trying to stay on top, since fame is the best way to beat the wrap, and they battle each other for top spot.

The performances here are all excellent.  Richard Gere as the sleazy lawyer Flynn does a great job at acting, dancing and singing, which was quite the surprise.  All three leads - Zellweger, Zeta Jones and Gere - did their own dancing and singing, and all did a marvelous job.  It's quite surprising how good they are, although Zellweger sticks mostly to singing with 'strutting' passing for dancing in most of her numbers.

There's also some excellent supporting work from John C. Reilly as Roxie's loser husband, Amos (who Gere always calls Andy), and Queen Latifah as Momma, the matron of the woman's prison.  It's no surprise that Latifah can sing, but even Reilly does a truly impressive job holding his own in a solo number.

There's not much story here, but after all, it is a musical.  Story plays second fiddle to the choreography and song, and that's to be expected.  The real reason this film works so well is the imaginative way they've blended the numbers with the live action.  Since these are big, Broadway play sort of numbers, they would have been difficult to include as 'reality'.  Instead, each number is actually played out in Roxie's own head, as she treats everything in her life as if she was a star on stage, and the events around her are just another song and dance routine.  The transitions from reality to imagination are flawless.  This mingling of reality and fantasy works extremely well, but no better than in the 'tap dance' that Gere has to do in court, while he's doing the same on stage.  The ventriloquist number, the number in which the ladies of the row explain why their men deserved what they got, and Reilly's Cellophane Man routine were all exceptional, and Director Rob Marshall did a great job bringing together the two worlds in a seamless and easily understandable fashion.

If there's one problem the film has, it is in the message.  Those in the film craving fame and money come out on top, while those who are innocent end up with the worst of punishments.  I was disappointed in the conclusion, and the overall feeling I was left with about the characters.  But as musicals go, this one was certainly fun.

Rating - Rent It
I can't say this is a film I'd watch repeatedly over time, so I can't give it a Buy rating.  But it was very entertaining, with some laugh out loud moments, and at least three exceptional song and dance routines.  I'm a moderate fan of musicals, and I've seen plenty, from the God awful Paint Your Wagon to the all time hilarious South Park: Bigger, Better, Uncut.  I wouldn't have picked this as the best film of 2003, both because of the conclusion and because it really is just cotton candy, but even I have a sweet tooth.

Spoiler Laden Thoughts
There's nothing really additional to spoil here, other than the fact that there's no real surprises.

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