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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.
The incoherent plot is saved by the enthralling world and Jennifer Jason Leigh's incredible performance.
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.
gr8 period pic one of my fave Robert Altman pics
"If my mother were still alive she'd cut your balls off."
La Ã©poca de oro del jazz y la mafia.
"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.
Such an interesting Altman film.
"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.
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.