Musicals are making a distinct comeback as a film genre, as evidenced by the success of Moulin Rouge last year, and Chicago is a welcome addition to that trend. The stage musical Chicago, brainchild of Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse, is adapted here for the screen by director/choreographer Rob Marshall, a newcomer to filmmaking who comes from a long career in Broadway musicals. Marshall's vision is impeccable, choosing a stylised and theatrical method of telling the story that is incredibly visually engaging while driving the plot forward quickly enough to almost entirely distract from the wan jazz-era story of a wannabe starlet Roxie (Renee Zellweger) and a bona fide star Velma (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who are both imprisoned for murder and try to parlay their infamy into lasting success with the help of their manipulative lawyer (Richard Gere).
The film isn't entirely without substance either, having some relevant (if not a bit obvious) statements to make about the twisted nature of celebrity culture and the sensationalising role of the media. It's the execution though that really makes this movie fun to watch. Marshall employs a smart structure that interweaves the reality of the plot with parallel fantasy sequences that are expressed through song and dance numbers. The choreography is consistently interesting and the design is amazing, both drawing heavily on the style and look of vaudeville acts. The three lead actors are all in fine form, putting enough glitz and guts into their performances that you don't really mind that their characters are uniformly shallow, vain, and ambitious. More than a few scenes are stolen from the stars by a great supporting cast, especially Queen Latifah in the role of prison matron "Mama" Morton and John C. Reilly as Roxie's pathetic, cuckolded husband, whose fantasy song and dance number transforms him into a perfect tramp clown.