Directed by Robert Altman
Starring Jennifer Jason Leigh, Miranda Richardson, Harry Belafonte, Dermot Mulroney, Michael Murphy, and Steve Buscemi.
Opened: Aug. 30, 1996 | Rated: R
"Kansas City" has two things going for it besides a talented cast and Robert Altman at the helm: almost 30 minutes of fantastic, toe-tapping jazz and spectacular period detail.
The music that permeates every scene should sell soundtrack CDs like crazy, and stars Jennifer Jason Leigh, Harry Belafonte, Miranda Richardson, Dermot Mulroney and Steve Buscemi all look at home in the fashions of the 1930s.
The location scouting was impressive, and with the costumes and cars help submerged the picture entirely in the period with unzoned, sparsely built urban neighborhoods and strips of brick store fronts.
But the fact that these details stand out so prominently demonstrates the key problem with "Kansas City" -- there's a lot of time to look around. The story takes place over two days but it feels like two weeks.
Harlow wanna-be Leigh is trying to get her husband back from certain death after he's caught scamming small-time gangster Seldom Seen (Belafonte).
She kidnaps a politician's opium-addicted wife (Richardson) to extort his influence with the mob, and the women play off each other like a dark, odd-couple comedy team.
Even with Altman's trademark weave of plots, "Kansas City," it feels more like a documentary about jazz that gets cluttered with exaggerated caricatures of '30s personas -- crooked politicos, tough-guy mobsters and mouthy molls.
Leigh is even more over-the-top than she was in "The Hudsucker Proxy" and she grinds on the nerves. This type of role seems to be her Achilles' heel.
After a while even the fantastic jazz blurs like the rest of the film into a numbing, run-on jam session.
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