If You Want It, Flaunt It

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After Madonna and Goldie and just before the casting search got around to Britney and Christina, Chicago has finally become a movie — the first one with two stars whose surnames begin with Z, as in pizazz, for Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renee Zellweger are perfectly paired as show-biz archetypes. Velma (Zeta-Jones) is the born entertainer, oozing charisma. Roxie (Zellweger) is the rest of us: the type with no gifts but an almost obscene ambition to make it big.

In Hollywood, most of the cynicism is found behind the scenes — in the conference rooms where a film's every truckling nuance is debated. Chicago, in director Rob Marshall's bold, strutting, rapaciously funny version, puts the cynicism up front, where it can titillate, horrify and instruct us. The movie cheerfully displays the backstabbing and lies — the desperation to be No. 1 and have everyone else be zero — that go into making the tabloid and celluloid shams that beguile us.

The film has lots of terrific turns to support its leading ladies: from Richard Gere, as the sexy weasel lawyer; from Queen Latifah, exuding the wry sizzle of a star who doesn't mind that Hollywood has yet to figure out how to use her; and, we almost forgot, from John C. Reilly — another in his sad gallery of losers not even daring to hope for sympathy.

Marshall's movie has a gyroscopic camera and a sushi chef's sense of fast cutting. He's itching to make the movie-est movie around, and he takes his cue from the show's signature tune, Razzle Dazzle: "Give 'em an act with lots of flash in it/And the reaction will be passionate."

Chicago has so much razzle-dazzle that viewers may end up both raised and dazed. It's remorselessly inventive, trying anything fast and sassy to keep you watching. In other words, it's the most honest display of showpeople's need to be noticed this side of a Madonna concert.