"I know a whoopee spot, where the gin is cold, but the piano's hot; it's just a noisy hall, where there's a nightly brawl, and all that jazz!" Man, that song is now so deep in my had that I just had to make that reference, even though it's not especially cleverly ironic, considering that this film's title really is a direct reference to that song. That's right; if you're the kind of person who has always wanted them to make some sort of property based on the opening number in a musical, well, congratulations, because this film stands as evidence to your not being the only weirdo to think that. Well, you're probably the only one alive who thinks that, because Bob Fosse is dead, and if he was really as busy as this film says he was, I'm surprised juggling the film "Lenny", the musical "Chicago", and all sorts of other jazz (Tee-hee) wasn't what killed him. Yeah, this film isn't actually directly about the song "All That Jazz", but it was the closest thing we got to an adaptation of Fosse's "Chicago" until 2002, and even then, it seems more like a rip-o-I mean, companion piece to Frederico Fellini's "8 1/2", because it's yet another pseudo-surrealistic semi-autobiopic about the struggles of being a filmmaker. This film scored the Palm d'Or, so I guess Fosse's playing to the European crowd worked out, but don't go worrying that this film is a dull as "8 1/2", because it's got... song and dance numbers (Cue - you guessed it - "jazz" hands)! Well, as entertaining and, for that matter, rewarding as this film is in a lot ways, it still has more than a few aspects to challenge your attention.
Tonally uneven, this drama alternates between lively and tongue-in-cheek, maybe even rather blue humor, and heavy, almost existential dramatics which, even by their own right, fail to keep consistent with subtlety. I don't suppose the subtlety lapses are ever all that considerable, but they're decidedly present, found within melodramatics, if not an almost abrasive overemphasis on visuals and set pieces which aim to compliment themes regarding the monotony and stresses of life, and, of course, the consequences of excess in life. This film doesn't seem to be quite as vulgar as they say (Well, why did we have to see the surgery sequence?), but it's still a little obscene, as well as a little tonally abrasive in its betraying the potential sophistication of this character study, leading to an intellectual unevenness to accompany tonal unevenness, and focal unevenness. Between aspects of the lead's love/sex life, family, career and fascination with mortality, this film juggles a lot of branch, and sub-branches to largely be so driven by a single individual, and simply can't keep up with it all, jarring back and forth in an almost exhaustingly convoluted manner whose monotony is exacerbated by other forms of excess. Focal inconsistency derives from, not simply too many segments, but too much focus on each segment, reflecting fat around the edges of storytelling that, with all of the other abrasive aspects, leads to a sense of repetition, if not utter monotony. The film is about as inspired as it is ambitious, and is ultimately rewarding, though not as fulfilling as it could have been, as it's too overblown to keep consistent in tone, focus, pacing and subtlety, and almost too overblown to compel. Of course, the final product manages to engage through and through, or at least entertain thoroughly, partly because of its musical flavor.
Featuring anything from Vivaldi masterpieces and an original Ralph Burns bebop score, to delightful mainstream and show tunes, this film's backing soundtrack keeps the musical value of the film pretty sound in between the song and dance numbers, which are underused, but well worth the wait, with that classic Bob Fosse snap, flare and audacity. These musical numbers simply mark heights in a solid style that makes this a fairly glamorous film throughout its course, and supplements an entertainment value which still can't completely carry the engagement value of this promising drama. Convolutedly overblown with branches, this film's story concept is even overambitious, and the missteps in its interpretation betray the potential, but this remains a very worthy plot, which touches upon themes regarding glamor and sleaze of show business, and how it can corrupt a man of vision, lust and pride, if not obsession and excess, broken up by themes on existence and mortality which secure the sophistication of this film's subject matter to back an intriguing plot. There is a lot of potential behind this film, and Robert Alan Aurthur's and Bob Fosse's script stand to fulfill it more thoroughly, but even with its excessiveness, it too endears pretty thoroughly, with sparkling dialogue highlights which reflect a wit whose incorporation into even some of the more blue comedy snap and liven things up, while depth is brought into the storytelling by rich characterization. Most every supporting role is tightly drawn as memorable by its own right, - with the help of across-the-board charismatic performances - as well as complimentary to the depths of the leading Joe Gideon character's story, truly carried by Roy Scheider, who, in one of the defining performances of his career, captures the charisma of a sleazy artist with an impeccable charm, until humanizing the role of a flawed, doomed mortal with powerful emotional layers which range from engrossing to near-penetrating. Scheider is a revelation, but not even he can secure the reward value of this drama, thus, it all falls on Fosse's direction to make or break this film, and considering Fosse's ambition and abilities, he delivers more often than not, with a style that, while often abrasive, colors up brisk momentum and sustains thorough entertainment value which holds your attention, until your investment is secured by thoughtful, maybe even subtly delicate moments of dramatic inspiration. The film is moving when it most needs to be, and a lot of fun the rest of the time, and although it could have been a little more consistent, it compels enough to reward as a lively and intelligent drama.
When the curtain falls, tonal, intellectual and focal inconsistencies reflect an excess that is particularly found within an overdrawn and often repetitious structure which threaten the final product's reward value, firmly secured by the lively soundtrack and musical numbers, intriguing story, clever script, strong performances - the strongest of which being by an outstanding Roy Scheider - and inspired direction which make Bob Fosse's "All That Jazz" a thought-provoking, compelling and, of course, fun exploration of the show business and mortality itself.
3/5 - Good