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The film version of Chicago is a dazzling return to the Bob Fosse musical decked to the hilt with great songs, stunning choreography and an exemplary cast. Renee Zellweger is the ditzy starlet Roxie, Catherine Zeta-Jones is vain diva Velma and Richard Gere is the slick lawyer Billy Flynn who defends these two women on separate murder charges in 1929 Chicago. Everyone's fighting to make the front page in the tabloids and become a media darling. For them, the world's the stage.

Attending the stage production of Chicago is one of life's great pleasures, and it would seem impossible to expect the film version to ever measure up. So many brilliantly written characters and so much action takes place at once, and the elaborate choreography requires the full spectrum of the stage. What we know is that film can only capture little pieces at a time, and while the eye may want to look in one direction, editing a film allows you to only see what it wants to show you, one piece at a time. Bob Fosse's vibrant, astonishing stage version is breathtaking in its execution. Fosse's choreography always had a genius and calculated tableaux of multiple performers wrapped in tango. Some of his performers did dances in the most seemingly impossible of pretzel entanglements. Fosse did direct a couple of films in his career, including All That Jazz in 1979, which is the greatest modern musical of our time -- eye-popping visuals, sensual dance and awesome surrealistic spectacle -- an unbeatable symbiosis of musical choreography and cinema.

The film version of Chicago is done by first-time filmmaker Rob Marshall, himself a former Broadway choreographer. What he knows foremost is to not weigh the movie down with silly histrionics -- he doesn't take the story's events seriously. The story in something like this shouldn't be taken seriously, with too much thought, because it's really all about the joy of musicals. As a filmmaker, Marshall obviously has the instincts to film a swift, rollicking musical. And like Fosse, he knows what looks good on-screen. He knows how to use the camera and effective lighting to show off his actors. Also resourced with a good sense of camera movement and timing, the spectrum of action of each set piece is vibrantly captured. Chicago is nevertheless a big screen movie -- it needs the panorama of a widescreen to work effectively. It wouldn't work as well on video. This is good news anyway because it forces avid moviegoers to get out of the house and treat a film like an event. Bring a date and make it a good evening out.

Chicago is a welcome surprise because most film musicals usually don't work as well as this. Indeed, it's still not the equal of a theatrical experience but it's still loaded with fun and the ticket prices are cheaper, too. Like the stage version, the film has two knockout sequences with Cell Block Tango and Razzle Dazzle. Another terrific asset is the casting of Queen Latifah as a prison guard and John C. Reilly as Roxie's hapless husband in two zesty supporting roles. Chicago is hugely entertaining, a real movie, bursting with song and dance... and all that jazz.

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