(PG-13) 2 1/2 stars

(PG-13) 2 1/2 stars
Admittedly, I"m not much for movie musicals, but even I know that the great ones should send you out of the theater buzzing with energy and humming all the way home. As movie musicals go, Chicago is something of a black hole: Its non-stop onslaught of razzle-dazzle leaves you feeling drained, rather than entertained. Adapted from the wildly successful Broadway show, the film version of Chicago looks much more like a theatrical production than a movie. Everything is over-exaggerated, from the actors" gestures, to the flat, stagy sets against which the bulk of the scenes take place. That outsize scale works fine for live theater, but makes for a movie which looks and feels overblown and overwrought right from the opening number, "All That Jazz," sung by Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones, sporting a sharp Louise Brooks bob). Zeta-Jones seems like a fine singer and dancer, and she belts out the movie"s first song with true verve, but it"s hard to really appreciate her abilities because the frenetic editing has the camera buzzing around the inky, smoky interior of the club like a bluebottle fly, never resting on any image for more than a few seconds. IngÈnue Roxie Hart (RenÈe Zellweger) watches from the audience, imagining herself onstage. By the end of the night, Velma and Roxie are both charged with murder, and find themselves in a prison run by Matron Mama Morton (Queen Latifah). Latifah, the only true musical talent in the cast, is marvelous as the pragmatic, yet big-hearted, butch lesbian warden, and her only song, "When You"re Good to Mama," is arguably the movie"s best. Morton arranges for Billy Flynn (Richard Gere), "the silver-tongued prince of the courtroom," to represent both Velma and Roxie in their respective murder trials, pitting the women against each other as they vie for the tabloid stardom that will save them from the gallows. While I could have quite happily lived the rest of my days without seeing Richard Gere tap dance, he"s not half bad, and the scene where he plays puppet-master at a press conference before Roxie"s trial is quite clever. Chicago"s best numbers fall during the film"s first two-thirds, and by the time Roxie"s trial rolls around, we don"t really care whether or not the baby-faced, shrill-voiced "jazz killer" and her arch-nemesis Velma will go free. Chicago has an emotional register of just one note - a kind of cynical prurience - that makes it difficult to feel much of anything for the characters, or the songs they sing.

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