Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Miranda Richardson, Harry Belafonte, Michael Murphy, Dermot Mulroney, Steve Buscemi
Written by: Frank Barhydt, Robert Altman
Directed by: Robert Altman
MPAA Rating: R for language, some violence and drug use
Running Time: 116
Date: 05/15/1996

Kansas City (1996)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Jazz Age

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Working again with writer Frank Barhydt (Short Cuts), Robert Altman brings us an effective, if minor, crime film filled with the jazz sounds of Count Basie and Lester Young. Brassy dame Blondie (Jennifer Jason Leigh) cooks up a scheme to rescue her husband, Johnny (Dermot Mulroney), from gangster Seldom Seen (Harry Belafonte), by kidnapping a wealthy presidential advisor's wife (Miranda Richardson). Altman and Barhydt set the action during the 24 hours around Election Day, 1934, giving the city itself a sense of purpose and character. The performers are wonderful, especially Leigh with her snappy Jean Harlow line readings, and Leigh and Richardson develop a great chemistry together. Yet Altman's observant, unhurried filmmaking style doesn't always mesh with a tightly-wound story like this one. To start with a bang, the filmmakers jump right into the kidnapping, and then flash back to the events leading up to it. Also, Blondie's plan hinges on the fact that Seldom will keep Johnny alive for a whole night and day, which he does for no good reason at all. Overlooking these technicalities, viewers can enjoy a wealth of wonderful jazz music, much of it performed on camera by artists like Joshua Redman.

DVD Details: The DVD comes with a commentary track by Robert Altman, a trailer and optional English and Spanish subtitles. This would have been a great opportunity to release Altman's accompanying jazz film Jazz '34, from the same year, on DVD, but alas...

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