Kansas City - * *

Yet another mixed bag o’ tricks from director Robert Altman, the 1930’s period piece Kansas City is a bit more restrained than his recent works. Primarily it is the story of Blondie O’Hara (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the wife of a petty thief (Dermot Mulroney) who robs the wrong man, the favorite customer of Seldom Seen (Harry Belafonte), a black crime lord. Her husband is quickly captured by Seldom’s men, and desperate to save him, Blondie heads for the Stilton home. Henry Stilton (Michael Murphy) is one of FDR’s right hand men, and Blondie’s sister, Babe Flynn (Brooke Smith) routinely assists Henry’s wife Carolyn (Miranda Richardson) with manicures and such. However, when Blondie arrives at the Stilton household, Henry has left for Washington. Blondie proceeds to pull a gun and kidnap Carolyn, in order to force Henry to help her husband. Carolyn, as it turns out, is a drug addict, and spends most of the move in a drug-induced haze. Intercut with this story is a jazz session at Seldom’s club, The Hey Hey Club. In addition there are two noticable subplots (remarkable restraint for Altman), one dealing with Babe’s husband (Steve Buscemi) working to fix the elections, and one involving a young Charlie Parker befriending a pregnant girl. Unfortunately for Kansas City, the primary plot, while convoluted, isn’t terribly involving. It is far outshone by the jazz cutting sessions that are intermixed with the film (and providing a terrific soundtrack). The main problem with the primary storyline is the interaction between the two main characters. There is none. Blondie constantly jabbers on about this or that topic, and Carolyn stares blankly and looks like she may drool at any moment. Far more interesting are the political stacking that Babe’s husband is organizing…yet we only get glimpses of his work, and his entire subplot is never fully fleshed out. But there is solace in the great jazz soundtrack, done in the style of period artists. One thing is puzzling, however…for a film entitled Kansas City, there is little to nothing of a sense of place for this film. It could seemingly take place anywhere in the midwest. You would expect that Altman, who grew up in the town, would be able to add a bit more local flavor to the scenes.

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