Kansas City - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Kansas City Reviews

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May 1, 2016
I really liked this, though the stuff in the jazz club is so good that cutting back to the still-entertaining plot with the two women feels like a letdown every time. It has such a beautiful rhythm and pace to it, though. I don't know why it's so poorly-rated.
½ March 14, 2016
The incoherent plot is saved by the enthralling world and Jennifer Jason Leigh's incredible performance.
½ February 2, 2016
"Kansas City" has the makings of an actual 1930s B-movie, one of those hour long crime flicks with no big stars except maybe someone like Warren William, who was in everything and was mostly inescapable no matter the budget restrictions of a picture. Trouble is, "Kansas City," released in 1996 and directed by the inimitable Robert Altman, lasts for nearly two hours without much by way of a heavy-handed storyline, running on empty for what feels like ages after its mojo finally hits its stride.
But like in most Altman films, we are helpless in resisting its many subversions. How its leading lady, played here by a rollicking Jennifer Jason Leigh, tries desperately to be a cheap version of Jean Harlow but ends up looking like a platinum haired rascal with rotten teeth. How its villain (Harry Belafonte) avoids the camp of the era and goes for mystical, how the damsel in distress (Miranda Richardson) is a wealthy opium addict without much spunk, how the man who should be the hero (Dermot Mulroney) is nothing more than a fragment of a specimen, genuinely lightheaded when he should be scrappy.
If these characters were played by actors of the respective time, without Altman mockery saddling them, we can envision "Kansas City," aside from Harlow as Leigh's central moll, being headlined by George Raft, Myrna Loy, and maybe even Dick Powell. But Altman's twisting of stock characters makes the film feel like something the studio never would have released, being too cynical and self-deprecating to keep audiences of the Great Depression out of their overwhelming misery. It is a fascinating, though very minor, Altman project, an exercise of his talents not necessarily in the mood to show off.
And considering his past films, often making use of massive ensemble casts or simple storylines with a hell of a lot of metaphors behind them to make them feel heavy "Kansas City" is unusually to the point. In the movie, Leigh portrays Blondie O'Hara, a hard-bitten gun moll who kidnaps a millionaire's wife (Miranda Richardson) in hopes to make a trade. Her husband, Johnny (Mulroney), you see, is being held up at crime boss Seldom Seen's (Belafonte) jazz joint, and she believes that her victim's spouse (Michael Murphy) can free him, his financial standing potentially impactful.
But none of these characters are very smart, except for Seldom Seen, whose self-possession is so intimidating you might call him a guru of sin. So begins a night of madcap messiness, Blondie causing most of the trouble with her inability to be a halfway decent kidnapper.
"Kansas City" is Robert Altman's thirty-first film, and refreshing is how he clearly is willing to take as many risks as a young filmmaker would, never settling in a specific mindset only because it doesn't excite him. He could make films like "Short Cuts" for the rest of his career, but to do so would be predictable. This film works as a sort of breather from the epic, not a masterpiece nor a failure - just a confirmation that Altman never would, and never will, be a filmmaker confined to a specific stylistic standpoint.
½ December 20, 2015
I don't think there's really much middle ground with Altman. When his films work, they are wonderful. When they don't work ... well, then you get a film like this one. This film has a very simple and straightforward plot, and the film frustratingly meanders all around it for 2 unrewarding hours. I love Jennifer Jason Leigh, but she is terrible in this film, adopting a cartoon Betty Boop voice and overacting furiously. I gather part of Altman's interest in this film was exploring Kansas City's vibrant jazz scene of the period, but even that does not translate very well being represented by one, film-length jam session.
May 20, 2015
gr8 period pic one of my fave Robert Altman pics
½ December 12, 2014
"If my mother were still alive she'd cut your balls off."
March 18, 2014
La ├ępoca de oro del jazz y la mafia.
½ May 8, 2012
Such an interesting Altman film.
½ April 7, 2012
"Kansas City" is an extremely slight film in Robert Altman's filmography. I was surprised that Altman forgets the basic ingredients that are so important to making film noir work. The biggest sin "Kansas City" commits is that the film is never nasty. A good film noir should always make you feel uncomfortable. Altman understood this in "The Long Goodbye," but for some reason it's obviously absent from "Kansas City." Moreover, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Miranda Richardson are sorely miscast, making the pedestrian proceedings even more uninteresting. "Kansas City" could have been a great film if Altman had dared to take more interesting choices, something that effects all of his late 90s works. As it stands, this is just aggressively mediocre.
April 1, 2012
How do you want him, in a box or a sack? ... Who cares, so long as Robert Altman never makes a film like this again.

Talk about a bad movie...

The Story: In 1930's Kansas City, a woman kidnaps a politicians wife in order to save her boyfriend from some mobsters...Not a genuinely original story, though, not an incredibly bad story...It's just the way it's told that makes it bad...The characters often times seem disconnected from the storyline, and the dialogue while appropriate for the time is just goofy, it's got a semi-stylish look to it, but overall nothing breathtaking, and it's just plane boring. Seriously, it's almost two hours and this movie drags like no other. It starts slow and never picks up the pace.

The Cast: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Miranda Richardson, Harry Belafonte...Jennifer Jason Leigh is Blondie O'Hara, a tough street smart dame, who only wants her boyfriend back. I love Jennifer Jason Leigh, I just don't love her here. Her performance sounds so forced here, it's unbelievable. Not for one minute did I feel a connection with her (or anyone else for that matter), and not once did I believe she was 1930's woman. She looks the part, she just doesn't play the part. Miranda Richardson is Carolyn Stilton, the politicians wife, used to the good life. Her character gradually gets more drunk as the story progresses, so her bad acting seems to become gradually more forgivable. Her performance doesn't sound quite as forced as Leighs but she's still pretty boring and lifeless. Harry Belafonte is Seldom Seen, the mob boss. A boring character with a lot of drawn out speeches. Once again, not as forced as Leigh but he's just as lifeless as Richardson. There's a few other characters and actors here, but they all play extremely minor parts that only take up time and contribute very very little to the story.

One to Five Scale: 1

Boring characters, forced performances, and a bad story with bad story development. Even if you're a hardcore Jennifer Jason Leigh fan you won't find much value here.

Critique Threatt
Super Reviewer
November 15, 2011
I pefered this film then Altman's "Thieves Like Us" which was also set in the depression era of the 1930. "Kansas City" doesn't care so much on the plot but rather on the characters but I was particularly more interested in the jazz players, and a "Godfather" type played by Harry Belefonte.

Altman seems to not want to use his usually skilled trademarks. There is seldom use of overlapping dialogue although there is a good sense of closeness between blacks and whites within Kansas City, Altman's authentic detail to the 1930's, and his great use of editing, cutting between the main characters, and the jazz players.

One of the best scenes show two jazz artist going against one another and afterwods respecting each other's craft. Steve Buscemi's character reminds me of one of the characters in "Gangs Of New York" getting all the people to vote. This picture is not Altman's best film but I still enjoyed it thanks to a strong performance from Belefonte, and well, again the period and the music.
½ August 15, 2011
In quite short succession I've watched a few Robert Altman movies, and generally been impressed by the likes of The Player, Short Cuts and Gosford Park. So naturally I was expecting something close to that standard. Unfortunately, despite a good cast who work to their best and provide unique, interesting performances, the story just isn't that strong and lags far too often to truly maintain concentration. It just moves so slowly, revealing little other than Altman's obvious love for jazz music. There's no mistaking it is definitely an Altman movie though, it bears all the hallmarks of his style of direction and how his actors work together, and Miranda Richardson and Jennifer Jason Leigh in particular are fun to watch, but in it's desire to provide an indictment of social oppression during the 1930s through a plot of corruption, kidnapping and organised crime, you get little background of the characters and so despite fine performances they become rather bereft of substance. Nevertheless, for the performances alone it's worth a look, just don't expect this to be alongside the great's of Altman's career, it's far too self indulgent for that.
June 14, 2011
Sooner or Later, Everyone's Got to Go

I must confess that I haven't seen a lot of Robert Altman films. This includes having missed a lot of the classics, though I have one coming up relatively soon. The funny thing is that I think all the movies of his that I've seen all the way through recently enough to remember have been ensemble pieces except [i]Popeye[/i]. In my brain, this is now one of the defining characteristics of an Altman film. Now, this one revolves around a single plot, as opposed to several plots revolving around a single event. So that's different. Still, this movie, too, is more about the characters than what they're doing. What they're doing is merely why they are now together. There has to be a reason, even if the reason doesn't necessarily have to make sense.

The short version is that Johnny O'Hara (Dermot Mulroney) robbed a guy in a cab, Sheepshan Red (A. C. Tony Smith). Unfortunately for him, Sheepshan was heading off to meet local racketeer Seldom Seen (Harry Belafonte) for a spot of gambling, and Johnny got all of Sheepshan's money. Johnny thought he'd get away with it, because he was in blackface, but his plan falls apart anyway. In order to save his life, his wife, Blondie (Jennifer Jason Leigh), kidnaps Carolyn Stilton (Miranda Richardson), wife of a local political bigwig, Henry Stilton (Michael Murphy). She contacts Stilton, who is out of town, and tells him that Johnny and Carolyn are now tied together--if Seldom kills Johnny, Blondie will kill Carolyn. What's more, Blondie's sister, Babe (Brooke Smith), is married to Johnny Flynn (Steve Buscemi), a low-level political figure who's getting out the vote for the Democrats. Over and over again.

There are, of course, several layers of society which we see here. Nettie Bolt (Jane Adams) of the Junior League is at the same level as the Stiltons, but she also knows Blondie as is at the train station when we first see her so that she can meet Pearl Cummings (Ajia Mignon Johnson), a fourteen-year-old black girl in Kansas City so that she can have her baby. Johnny Flynn connects to John Lazia (Joe Digirolamo), slightly higher up the political chain, who connects to Stilton. Johnny Flynn (one of the things Carolyn says which makes sense is vague surprise that both sisters married someone named Johnny) is rounding up drunks and vagrants to vote Democrat for Lazia, and Lazia is called on to rescue Johnny O'Hara. In theory, Seldom Seen is below Johnny O'Hara on the spectrum, on the grounds of Seldom is black, but in practice, no one really believes that.

Blondie is fixated on Jean Harlow, having based her look and attitude on her. She points out with no little pride that Jean Harlow was from Kansas City, as was Joan Crawford. But she thinks Joan Crawford is cheap. The thing is, whether you believe Jean Harlow was cheap or not, and a lot of people did, she was someone who'd reinvented herself. I mean, for one thing, as a separate person from her mother! But half the cast of this movie either wants to be or is pretending to be someone they're not, as I have to say, there are worse people to pretend to be than Jean Harlow. No, I'm sure she wasn't the smartest woman in Hollywood. At very least, Hedy Lamarr was already in Hollywood by the time this movie is set. But seen from the perspective of the fan magazines, Jean Harlow had everything Blondie could possibly want, whereas Blondie was married to a guy like Johnny O'Hara.

The best part of this movie is the visual style. It's great that Harry Belafonte ad libbed most of his own part and wrote most of the rest. It's fascinating how much attention to detail is in the movie; the Marcus Garvey jokes probably aren't funny to much of a modern audience, though I'm sure a few of them are. The ones that don't rely on actually knowing who Marcus Garvey was. I guess the movie doesn't really rely on your knowing who Jean Harlow was, though there's more depth to the movie if you know that as well. Altman apparently recorded more than another film's worth of the jazz musicians' performances. That would probably have been more worth watching, though I can't say as I would have had much to say about it, either. This is not Altman's finest; I have no intention of watching it a second time. But my, it's a [i]pretty[/i] film.
Super Reviewer
½ May 9, 2011
"Kansas City" is an extremely slight film in Robert Altman's filmography. I was surprised that Altman forgets the basic ingredients that are so important to making film noir work. The biggest sin "Kansas City" commits is that the film is never nasty. A good film noir should always make you feel uncomfortable. Altman understood this in "The Long Goodbye," but for some reason it's obviously absent from "Kansas City." Moreover, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Miranda Richardson are sorely miscast, making the pedestrian proceedings even more uninteresting. "Kansas City" could have been a great film if Altman had dared to take more interesting choices, something that effects all of his late 90s works. As it stands, this is just aggressively mediocre.
April 24, 2011
This is the first Robert Altman film that I saw. I know he is a great director, so he should not have made this messy, dizzying and stoned film. Richardson and Leigh are good though.
½ April 10, 2011
I was really disappointed about this movie. Not a terribly exciting movie, which has a tendency to be sluggish. All the actors turn in first rate performances, but the story tends to lag and really go nowhere about political corruption and kidnapping.
½ December 30, 2010
Altman's film is a straightfoward 1930's caper gone wrong crime film with some great performances all around. Jennifer Jason Leigh does plays a character so desperate and annoying you want to punch her in the face by the end of the film but I have to admit, it's what the roll called for. Miranda Richardson is perfect as her kidnapped victim to free her husband being held by crime lord Seldom Seen played by Harry Belafonte. Belafonte just seems to breeze around every scene he is in and is a joy to watch. What really hold this film together is the beautiful jazz soundtrack. I couldn't agree more with Belafonte's character as he repeats, "listen to that music!" Altman does a good job of laying everything out and intercutting scenes with the jazz band in the nightclub and it comes together well, if a little understated.
October 13, 2010
Robert Altman's Great Hommage to his Hometown Kansas City with great Actors and great Score
May 14, 2010
Another sharp critique of american way of life (democracy) and it's culture (jazz). Altman is great in showing us how USA looks like on it's dark side. All his movies are more or less saying something about USA through it's culture. And this is important thing to do.
His movies are not entertainment. I don't even consider them work of art. They are critique. That is why allmost all of them are hardly bearable by average person. Me, for example...
Super Reviewer
½ February 4, 2010
Robert Altman is one of those directors I will never understand. I have nothing against the man but the significance bestowed upon him by film scholars is beyond me. Sure, he made a lot of decent films, some of which are watchable, but on the whole they always come across as several plays staged on a massive scale with Altman sitting in the wings, pointing at things for the cameramen to shoot.
Stylistic qualms aside, Kansas City is a turd, plain and simple. A good looking turd. A well premised turd, but savagely beaten into mind numbing nothingness by a total lack of direction. It seems like everyone involved is haphazardly wandering from scene to scene waiting for important plot points to materialize. The eternally pouty Jennifer Jason Leigh pouts her way through scene after pointless scene while the eternally sexy Miranda Richardson sits in the corner watching.
Hey, look! It's Harry Belafonte talking to some guy throughout the entire movie about THE SAME THING, OVER AND OVER AND OVER.
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