Of all the Broadway-based musical films of the decade under consideration, this is by far and away the best, a runaway success and Oscar winner that earned every bit of its acclaim. The film does have its detractors due to its decision not to try to replicate Bob Fosse’s original choreography on screen, but I actually think the decision was a wise one, given that Fosse was no longer around to adapt or restage his choreography for the screen.
In any case, the new choreography, while not the equal of Fosse, is superb by any ordinary standard, and the film’s direction does a fascinating job of rethinking both the stage show and the traditional medium of the film musical itself. Some of the cuts in the score are regrettable, but most of the highlights (“All That Jazz”, “Cell Block Tango”, “Mr. Cellophane”, “Razzle Dazzle”, “Nowadays”) are retained, and the cast does a generally fine job of performing them.
Renee Zellweiger sort of fakes her way through her singing and dancing, but thanks to expert direction she manages to do so fairly convincingly, and her acting of the part of Roxie is beyond reproach. Granted, early in the film she seems to be softening Roxie’s character and trying to make her more sympathetic than she is, but it later becomes clear that the filmmakers did that just so the audience could be shocked to realize what a sociopath this character actually is.
Catherine Zeta-Jones and Richard Gere are much more at home with the musical and choreographic demands of their roles, and turn in superb performances…but then, both of them had gotten their start in musical-theater productions, a fact that really only became public knowledge when this movie was released. Christine Baranski is something of a disappointment is the vastly abridged role of Mary Sunshine, but Queen Latifah is beyond ideal as Mamma Morton, and John C. Reilly is quite arguably the finest Amos of all time, flawlessly dopey and heartbreakingly sincere.
This film is unquestionably a modern masterpiece, and it ignited a string of Broadway-based film adaptation after over a decade in which we had seen almost nothing but pop-star vehicles and animated musicals. And though admittedly none of those films quite managed to equal it, it still deserves a great deal of credit for reestablishing the creative trade routes between Broadway and Hollywood, as well as for being a fantastically entertaining film in its own right.