“More than any other example in recent memory, Chicago shows how much the element of surprise is missing from today’s movies.” – Mike Clark, USA Today
“It’s as contrived as a grade 3 production of Snow White, except nowhere near as well made or interesting.” – LegolasGreenleaf, IMDb.com
Cabaret of Light
Finally, 2001 is over and I don’t have to think about that dreadful piece of trash that calls itself a movie ever again. And I don’t have to think about Freddy Got Fingered either. Anyway, let’s see what’s up to bat for 2002. Oh no, we’re in musical territory now. One film’s an adaptation of a beloved Broadway show, and one’s an adaption of a scandalous Italian film. So let’s talk about a movie where actors pretend to be singers and a movie where a singer pretends to be an actress.
Directed by newcomer Rob Marshall, Chicago tells the story of aspiring song and dance performer Roxie Hart (Renée Zellweger). As the film opens, Roxie goes to The Onyx nightclub with her illicit lover Fred because the Cotton Club was too full. At the club she sees star Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones) performing on stage and is in awe. In fact, Roxie is so captivated by the vaudeville world that she imagines herself on stage singing, which sets the mood for the film, with all of the characters pretending they can sing and dance. After all, if this was just a regular talkie it would be boring and people wouldn’t care for it, but music can be such a revelation, dancing around you feel the sweet sensation. Anyway, while Roxie’s in her own fantasy world off in the corner, Velma’s about to be taken away by the cops because she had actually performed some intolerable cruelty earlier that night.
Directed by newlywed Guy Ritchie, Swept Away tells the story of aspiring actress Madonna who plays snobbish rich girl Amber. As the film opens, Amber is on a yacht in the Mediterranean with her wealthy husband Anthony (Bruce Greenwood) with some of their friends. Though most of the vacationers are having a good time relaxing in the sun and swimming in the sea, Amber makes it known to everyone that she is having a miserable time. In particular, the annoying aristocrat constantly antagonizes the crew member Pepe (Adriano Giannini), always complaining about the accommodations and his hygiene. Thankfully though, unlike the original Italian film, this version excludes her opinions on him being a communist. But even with that storyline left out, I’m sure Agent John Nash would have recognized the communist innuendos.
As Amber’s sitting around doing nothing on the boat, Roxie’s sitting around doing nothing in her apartment. Still sleeping around with Fred, her dreams are still big because he told her he’s got connections and can make her a star. However, since she wouldn’t stop nagging him about when she’ll get her audition, he finally breaks it to her that he hasn’t been honest and that he doesn’t actually know anybody at the club. So he lied to her and pretended to be someone he’s not and still expected her to give him luvin. Well, that didn’t go well with Roxie, so she grabbed her hubby’s gun and shot Lyin’ Fred to death. If she’s smart she’d run away, but she’s not so I guess she stayed. Speaking of her hubby, soon after Roxie did the deed then did another deed, Mr. Amos Hart (John C. Reilly) came home. And then, soon after that, the cops came as well. At first he was willing to take the blame and say he killed the guy in defense. However, after a little bit of interrogation, the agitated Amos realized his wife had been messing around with the corpse, so he didn’t mind that much when the cops ended up taking Roxie off to jail for murder.
Unlike Roxie, Pepe didn’t have a gun on hand to shut up the whining Amber, so he had to suck it up and take the abuse from her. Moaning about the taste of the fish, criticizing Pepe’s attire, pouting about there not being a gym on the boat, and all that jazz, it’s tough to choose who doesn’t want to be there the most, Amber, Pepe, or the viewer. Needless to say, Amber sure does put the “Dick” in Dick Tracy. One day, she wakes up late to discover that her companions had taken a dinghy to go for a little swim at the caves. Much to the crew’s objection because of the time of day, Amber insists that Pepe taker her on the other dingy to meet up with her pals. Of course, as expected, soon after they left the yacht, the dingy broke down and the odd couple were lost at sea. Most likely it was all just a big elaborate scheme by her fellow passengers to get rid of her. This time Bruce Greenwood is the spouse who gets to stay on the yacht, Elizabeth Banks gets to enjoy her wet, hot, Italian summer, and maybe David Thornton can get a hold of his wife Cyndi Lauper and everyone can finally have some fun with a good 80s pop star.
While the two drifters feel helpless in their dingy, Roxie feels helpless in her jail cell. Luckily she’s not alone and has been meeting the colorful characters in the pleasant prison. She’s introduced to jail matron Mama Morton (Queen Latifah). At first she seemed like a nice enough gal, but soon enough she shouted and listed tons of rules, and Roxie privately wanted to tell Mama not to preach. Then of course she meets her incarcerated idol Velma as well as some her fellow murderesses. Those convicts sure do know how to express themselves.
As Velma’s basking in her spotlight, Amber and Pepe were basking in the stranded sunlight. Still floating in the water after a day or two without rescue, the bickering duo are starting to get worried they’ll never be rescued. Thankfully, they see a boat off in the distance, and just at that moment they also notice there’s a flare gun in the little pocket of the dingy. Unfortunately, they both grabbed it at the same time and clumsily fired it into their own boat, putting a hole in it. Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes they both, oh yes they both, oh yes, they both reached for the flare gun, the flare gun, the flare gun, the flare gun, oh yes, they both reached for the flare gun. Luckily, even though that little mishap kept them from being picked up by the other boat, they happened to see land off in the distance, so they paddled toward it in their sinking dinghy. However, after reaching the island and doing some quick exploring, the snooping sailor informed the foul female that it was deserted and that they’d have to fend for themselves. But once he made that discovery, Pepe realized he now had the upper hand. Extremely hungry, the crude Amber who once complained about the taste of her cooked fish by the group of chefs on the yacht was now willing to pay thousands of dollars for a mere bite of a sardine that fisherman Pepe had caught. He quickly rejects her offer and tells her that he now is the boss and she must follow his orders. When she’s good to Pepe, Pepe’s good to her.
Meanwhile the other isolated blonde was feeling pretty helpless as well. The new kid on the cellblock, Roxie didn’t know what to do. But thanks to some Mamaly advice, she hears of hotshot attorney Billy Flynn (Richard Gere) who could help her out. He also happened to be Velma’s lawyer, so one day when she sees him pass by her cell, Roxie pounces on him and pleads for his help. He tells her to show him the money and wants $5,000. But who can blame him, experience has made him rich and now they’re after him. Even though Roxie could buy at least two fishes with that money, not wanting to go for second best and with the help of her surprisingly loyal husband Amos, they got Billy to take the case. After all, the boy with the cold, hard cash is always Mr. Right.
Unfortunately things aren’t going as smoothly for Amber. Now in charge, General Pepe has made the greedy girl his slave. At first very defiant, realizing she needed him for food and shelter, she had no choice to but to succumb to his game. Demanding she clean his clothes and call him master, she still was hesitant, but then he slapped her around a bit. But she had it coming, she only had herself to blame. If you’d have been there, if you’d have seen it, I betcha you would have done the same. Besides, the way she treated him on the yacht, she’s lucky he didn’t try to fire that flare gun at her face.
As Pepe was stripping down Amber’s status, Billy was grooming a new Roxie. At first his new client was playing it scared and insisting that she didn’t commit the crime. But he quickly shut her up, “I’ma say this once, I don’t give a shit” he told her. The main thing is to work the crowd and the media, she had to be a completely new person. He gave her a new personality, and said let’s pray that it sticks. From now on she’s gonna be a devoted housewife who loves her husband and the crime was completely in self-defense. And thanks to brilliant Billy, he quickly made it so that Roxie’s face was on all the newspapers and all of Chicago were eagerly asking “Who’s that girl?”
While all that song and dance is happening in the Windy City, the same is staring to happen on this fantasy island. Still making his wicked woman follow his commands, Pepe demands that she dance for him while he eats his meal. Perhaps it’s because he’s paranoid from being stranded for so long, or perhaps it’s because it’s in her contract, but there is a music video in the middle of the story where Amber performs a sultry song. I guess Pepe just pulled a bit of that Roxie magic. That moment must have ignited a passion in Pepe because now he announces he will make Amber his sex slave, claiming she will soon be begging for Pepe’s Peepee.
Speaking of being in control, Roxie’s starting to let all this fame go to her head and she feels like she’s got this case won before the trial even starts. And as Roxie rises, Velma is falling. The once famous felon is being swept under the rug while the new criminal is stealing the headlines. Velma Kelly and the Queen, seeing Roxie on the magazines, it’s a tough changing of the guard. Hoping to get on Roxie’s good side and maybe reclaim her position as top dog, Velma had a proposition for the new material girl. She told her she’s got something to sing about, and it goes something like this. Unimpressed with Velma’s one woman duet, Roxie shrugged it off and went back to her business of winning over the press. Having lost first dibs on the sensational Billy Flynn, Velma was starting to realize she’s got nowhere else to go.
Back on the island of misfit boy toys, Amber’s realizing things aren’t as bad as she though they were. After a brief scuffle in the sand and some slaps here and there, her passion for Pepe skyrocketed and the former hated duo became a heated duo. The two had so much sex in so many locations in so many positions, you’d think this was a deleted scene from Color of Night. They even managed to do number seventeen, the spread eagle.
While Amber’s doing some riding, Roxie is riding pretty high as well. She’s getting a little too optimistic though. One day when a new dastardly dame is in the news, Roxie starts to fall into vanishing Velma territory. As the press pass Roxie’s cells without a hint of acknowledgement, the cunning criminal jumps into action. Letting out a loud gasp and a fake faint, the reporters stop to see what’s going on. Roxie says it’s nothing, she just hopes that the baby is alright. And with that, the pregnant prisoner is back on top. But though the announcement is a gossipy goldmine, it’s not all that great for Mr. Roxie Hart, the abandoned Amos. Though Billy still needs the harmless husband to help win the case, it’ll be trouble to keep him on her side. After all, doing the math of when the baby’s due, the recent Maury Povich victim is starting to feel like a virgin. But with a little sweet talk and compromise from the sly Flynn, Amos made up his mind and he’s keeping his baby. He’s gonna keep his baby.
Meanwhile, with all the island action taking place, I wouldn’t be surprised if Amber’s expecting as well. After all of the sex montages and island strolling montages, you’d think the raunchy duo would be tuckered out and want to be rescued. But no, the passionate pair just won’t stop getting it on. Even one day when Amber has that rare moment when she’s by herself, she sees a boat off in the distance and decides to let it sail off without trying to get its attention. I guess the horny heroine just likes performing for a one man audience.
All this back and forth lately of everything going right for these gals, even though time goes by so slowly, it doesn’t seem to be too bad. In fact, cocky Roxie is becoming a little too much of a diva. One day, when her ace attorney shows up and tells her to wear a dress she’s not too fond of, she yells at him and then fires Billy. After all, she didn’t wanna look like a simpleton, she wanted him to make her feel shiny and new. Thinking she can handle everything without him, almost immediately things finally don’t quite go her way. It turns out one of the fellow female felons is about to be executed. After the hanging, things just got real for Roxie, and realizing she could be the next to die another day, she hires Billy back and does what she’s told.
Unlike Roxie, Amber realized a while back that it was best to follow the orders of her man. One night while they were hanging out in the convenient cottage they found on the deserted island, they also happened to find an abandoned bottle of liquor. And just as everyone was hoping, we are blessed with a montage of drunken charades. With their quick correct guesses of the challenging imitations of Charlie Chaplin and Rocky, these two lovebirds would be brilliant at the challenges on Survivor.
While the intoxicated islanders were busy pretending to be other people, Roxie was busy pretending to be innocent. With her trial finally beginning, the whole world, or at least all of Chicago, was watching. Working his magic, Billy was busy winning over everyone in the courtroom. Of course the forgotten Velma wasn’t pleased with the display. Luckily she managed to get a hold of Roxie Hart’s Diary, and along with a lot of gushing over some Mark Darcy, it also included a quaint confession of her murdering Fred. Hoping this evidence would result in reducing her own sentence, Velma went on the stand to present the diary. Well, still on a roll, Billy managed to convince the judge and jury that the diary was in fact planted by the prosecutor and wasn’t real. With nothing left to do, the trial was over and all that was left was the verdict. Roxie was hoping that was enough to convince the jury, after all, she didn’t want to be their prisoner, so baby, she wanted them to set her free.
Back on the beach, our two sweethearts were about to be set free themselves. Though Amber was willing to ignore boats that appeared from time to time, Pepe had other ideas. When the most recent yacht arrived, he decided to get its attention and be rescued because he wanted to make sure that Amber truly loved him. He wanted to know that she actually had changed and that when she went back to her regular world that she would feel empty without him and that he would complete her.
With Amber and Pepe heading back home, Roxie was hoping she’d have the same fate. After a lot of waiting and hoping, the verdict was in and Roxie was innocent. After all the wild stuff that went on, somehow she made it through the wilderness, somehow she made it through. She assumed the experience would make her rich and now they’d be after her. However, just as the verdict was read, there was a woman at the steps of the courthouse with a gun. She saw the press coming and she was gonna have to change the game. With a couple shots and a couple dead bodies, the media jumped to the scene to check out this beautiful stranger. Out with the old murderer and in with the new murderer.
Finally back on the mainland, Amber and Pepe initially went their separate ways. Her rich husband Anthony was of course happy to have his whiny wife back, and he praised Pepe for saving her. Granted, he didn’t know that the two had been performing Erotica on a loop for a good chunk of their extended vacation, but that’s not important. In fact, the rich hubby even gave Pepe $1 million as a reward. Rather than waste the million on shipping the two off to Pakistan together, instead, Pepe wasted the million dollars on a million dollar ring to give to Amber. But basically the two were just moping around Italy missing each other.
Things were pretty dreary in the outside world for Roxie, too. When she revealed to Amos there was in fact no baby, he was a bit upset, though he should’ve been pleased because it would save him the trouble of seeing his new child being swung around by its umbilical cord. And after a bunchy of failed auditions, Roxie couldn’t even get a gig in the smaller clubs, nobody was interested in her anymore. The same was happening to the recently vindicated Velma. She too was back on the streets and wasn’t having much success. However, she had another proposition for the rejected Roxie. Tired of dancing here all by herself, tonight she wanted to dance with someone else. So all they’ve got is 4 minutes left in the film, so the two creative killers performed on stage together and they were an instant success. After all, murder and music makes the people come together.
Sadly, Amber and Pepe weren’t playing with each other. Even though Pepe had written a letter to Amber the adultress saying they should get back together, it had gotten lost in translation and she wasn’t aware of his plans. Assuming she didn’t want him anymore, the pouting Pepe downed some shots of liquor, and with nobody to play charades with, he decided to go for a walk. With his extremely expensive ring in hand, he walked to the pier, and happened to see Amber get on a helicopter with her husband Anthony. Well, Pepe didn’t take that too well. Realizing he probably should’ve followed in Tom Green’s footsteps and spent the million dollars and get a helicopter as well, he watched as his lost lover flew away and he decided to toss the ring into the sea. I guess he realized he wouldn’t have won her with the ring but he would have had her at helicopter.
In the end, these two films have a lot in common. They’re both about people who are lost and need to be saved. They’re about people wanting to change and needing the help of others so they can achieve their goals. They’re about role reversals. Chicago was just after Catherine Zeta-Jones’s marriage with Michael Douglas, Swept Away was just before Madonna’s divorce with Guy Ritchie. Chicago started Rob Marshall’s film career, Swept Away ended Madonna’s film career. And what do I think of these two films? Let’s just say that after having watched them, it sure helps reduce the options in the If You Were Stranded on a Deserted Island game.