The film starts by jumping right into the action, with amazing music - what a great song is "All that Jazz" - and with Velma Kelly (Zetta-Jones) walking into her dressing room, hiding a gun and washing the blood from her hands. That same night, Roxie Hart (Zellweger) is among the audience watching Velma and dreaming of being like her. She even witnesses when the police comes to take Velma away for the murder of her cheating husband and her sister, who was the object of his affection.
Meanwhile, Roxie is acting on her dreams, and to get there she is sleeping with a man she believes has connections in the show business world and can help her become a star. When she finds out that he was lying, and his "connections" were just a scam to get into her pants, she kills him by shooting him point blank. The husband tries to save her, but is not successful in his attempt, and does not try hard after he figures out what was going on between the deceased and his wife; thus, Roxie ends up in the same prison as Velma.
Enters Billy Flynn (Gere), the slick lawyer that has a reputation for being able to get anyone off the hook, no matter how gruesome the crime or how abundant the evidence. He is Roxie's last chance, so she has to engage in a competition with Velma to see which case he handles first. The corrupt environment also includes Mama (Queen Latifah), the prison guard who really believes in tit for tat and is always on the prowl for fresh meat.
I was surprised when I learned that both Zellweger and Zetta-Jones actually sing themselves in all the music pieces, since the quality of their singing is superb and it appears to be done by professional singers. Both of them do an outstanding job in their acting, and are supported in their roles by the quality performances of Richard Gere and Queen Latifah. Congratulations to Rob Marshall and his team for a remarkable final product.
Roxie Hart, an admirer of Velma Kelly, is married to Amos Hart (John C. Reilly), a good-hearted, regular Joe, but she longs for tabloid fame and fortune. She begins to have an affair with a man who promises that he could get her a stage gig only to find that he lied just to get her in bed. So, she ends up killing him. Her long suffering husband stands by his little woman as she is trundled off to jail to await trial. There she meets her idol, Velma Kelly, who finds her hero-worship annoying.
In the jail, Matron "Mama" Morton (Queen Latifah) reigns supreme over the inmates, accepting bribes for favors. Velma Kelly, represented by star defense attorney Billy Flynn (Richard Gere), is in tabloid heaven. Roxie Hart, longing to be in tabloid heaven as well, gets her husband to retain Billy Flynn on her behalf. Before she knows it, she, too, is in tabloid heaven, playing the media like a violin.
The legal profession also gets a cynical slap in the guise of the slimy, fast talking Billy Flynn, who looks for the best selling point rather than for the truth. He understands the thirst of the media for the perfect sound-bite and he gives it to them. Guilty or not guilty, it doesn't matter. What matters to him, as a hired mouthpiece, is the media mileage he can get for his client, as well as for himself. To that end, he is the ventriloquist, and his client is no more than his dummy.
The razzle-dazzle musical numbers move the story along. Catherine Zeta-Jones is terrific, looking impossibly beautiful and showing off her musical theatre background to great advantage with "All That Jazz" and "Cell Block Tango". Queen Latifah is outstanding as the sly and voracious Mama Morton, who goes whichever way the wind is blowing. She also has a show-stopping musical number, "When You're Good To Mama" that is simply memorable. Renee Zellweger, though not a professional singer or dancer, shows that she can sing and dance with the best of them.
The men also shine in this musical. John C. Reilly, as Roxie's long-suffering husband, also has a terrific number, "Mister Cellophane", that is truly heart rending and poignant, as well as metaphoric. Richard Gere gamely rises to the occasion in his first musical, making the slick Billy Flynn character an integral part of the film with his "Razzle Dazzle" number and his tap dancing.
I love this top notch, clever film, finding it hugely entertaining. It deserves every one of its six Academy Awards, including that for "Best Picture". Director Rob Marshall deserves kudos for this brilliantly directed, seamlessly edited, musical masterpiece. While it is a fairly faithful screen adaptation of Bob Fosse's Broadway musical, it has Rob Marshall's contemporary imprimatur on it. It is a film of which he can be justly proud. Bravo!