STUDIO: New Line
MSRP: $19.97 RATED: R
RUNNING TIME: 91 Minutes
• Trailers
• Commentary

The following review is based on a film from a bygone era. A film from a simpler time, when men were men, women were women, dogs were dogs and premarital sex still actually meant something. That’s right, I am talking about a time when life was good and an individual had to bust their ass to earn their keep. That time is of course… is 1996.

If memory serves me correctly, I do not remember much of 1996. Sure, there were a few good films out that year, but it is not a year that really sticks out in my mind like notoriously impressive 1999 or the surprisingly adequate 2004. No, it like any other came and went, leaving a cinematic impression not seen since Cool as Ice. Well, not that bad, but it definitely feels like a middle child.

This to me emphasizes the role of Kansas City on the history of film – not a bad movie or a great movie, but something much, much worse… An average movie.

"Don’t worry honey, the crabs will eat the lice…"

The Flick

Set in the dirty-thirty’s, Kansas City starts off with an anonymous car pulling up to a well-to-do house in the middle of the night. Out pops our anti-hero Blondie O’Hara (Jennifer “don’t rip me in half by tying me between two transports” Jason Leigh) as she is welcomed inside the house at the invitation of Carolyn Stilton (Miranda “why do people think I look hotter as Queen Mab?” Richardson). Disguised as a secret drug dealer, Blondie infiltrates Carolyn’s room to sling some dope, but to Carolyn’s surprise things are not as they seem. Blondie pulls out a gun and abducts Carolyn, the wife of a local politician, as ransom for the release of her husband, Johnny, from area mob boss Seldom Seen. That’s right, the guys name is “Seldom Seen”, and to think I once thought “Rock Sandstorm” was a contrived and deliberate name.

After failed attempts at convincing Seldom to release Johnny, Blondie is forced to up the stakes a bit. A cat and mouse game ensues between Blondie and Carolyn as she attempts to figure out how to use her leverage to get Johnny back. People are killed and trusts are broken, and as this movie crawls to an end that is actually very good and surprising, it is still not enough to erase the 85minutes you had to wait to get there.

The original pilot for Catwoman was thrown out after noticing that Carrie-Anne Moss actually is a man.

Kansas City is filled with a few good moments and great characters, coupled with a plethora of meaningless scenes and over acting. The good parts are few and far between, but it is the pointless stuff that really holds this movie back. The two polar opposites of this movie are definitely Jennifer Jason Leigh and Harry Belafonte, and it is their diversity that restricts and propels this movie to its finale.

Jennifer has had a good career behind her, but she seems lost in her element here. For the majority of the flick she is played against Miranda Richardson as a fast talking southern girl hell-bent on revenge. What actually comes though (and is thankfully explained in the commentary a bit) is an overacted drama queen working with an awkward and pathetic co-star. The two [Jennifer & Miranda] are good on their own, but almost seem uncomfortable acting in the same scene together. It is unfortunate because she takes a character she perfected years earlier in The Hudsucker Proxy and plays with a fraction of the intensity or humour.

The real breakout star is an unassuming Harry Belafonte doing his best Marlon Brando impression as the mob boss Seldom Seen. Harry has not acted in many films, and it is a real shame. He seems totally comfortable playing a hard and ruthless Don only concerned with what is best for business, which equally surprising considering his lack of real staring roles before and after Kansas City. As some of you may know, Harry is less known for his acting chops and more for his music, but after this movie it strikes me odd that he wasn’t able to capitalize on this amazing performance. Nonetheless, it is Harry that makes this movie work and keeps its audience entertained.

Prelude to the greatest lesbian scene, ever!

Good and bad acting aside, the movie is slow and sometimes boring. There is a particular scene where two secondary characters partake in what can only be described as a ‘jazz-off’ (yes, that is ‘jazz-off’ and it is spelled right. Get your head out of the gutter…) when they start cutting riffs with saxophones, each trying to out do each other. It really comes out of nowhere and a part of me was expecting Ralph Macchio to jump out and bust some licks on the guitar, implausibly making Steve Vai each his crap in the process. This does not happen, in fact nothing really happens because of it. While an interesting scene when taken out of context, it is a pointless scene which does nothing to further the plot.

When you break it down, Kansas City is an OK film about the 30s but fails to do anything original or unique enough to make it memorable. Its fate is far worse than good or bad – it is forgettable.

6.5 out of 10

Even when he’s not working it, Buck Adams continues to make me feel like half a man…

The Look

Dark. Really dark, even by film noir standards.

You may find yourself having to squint when looking at the captions in this review, for that I am sorry. Rest assured, this is not a technical error on the side of myself (whom was wrong once, but quickly divorced that mistake) but is actually how the film was shot. Granted, the look is stylish in a retro 30s kind of way, but the shadowy look deter far too much from the story and leave you spending more effort concentrating on what is actually happening. It is not in every scene, but it is in enough to make it noticeable and distracting.

6.8 out of 10

The Noise

Wow, never before have I been so mislead. I was under the impression that DTS was the be all/end all of home theatre sound. Apparently even those with a single speaker can enjoy the aural orgasm that is DTS – at least, that is according to Kansas City.

After reading the specs, I thought for sure this movie was getting high marks in the noise section – not so much, as it turns out. Although the musical score is separated nicely into 5.1 surround, there is nothing else going on except for the center track. It is sad really, because there was plenty of opportunity to add a little extra ambience in some scenes and also divide some of the scenes up a bit nicer, but no dice.

To your satisfaction, though, you will get to hear an excellent soundtrack filled with jazz from the 30s. Despite people’s varying tastes in music, in my time I have found that pretty much everyone enjoys jazz; there is just something haunting and mysterious about it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t save the DVD from having a lame audio presentation.

6 out of 10

"Well that lesbian scene was fully unsatisfying…"

The Goodies

Basically there is only one feature on this disc, save for a theatrical trailer which ceased to be ‘special’ half a decade ago. The one feature in question is a running commentary by legendary director, Robert Altman. Sure, he has not had a perfect track record, but I will forgive the man who brought us Dr. T and the Women & Popeye, for the man who also brought us Short Cuts, The Player & MASH. It is a pretty even trade, although I will always bear the scars of having to see Shelly DuVall & Robin Williams lock face.

Robert Altman is a name I’ve heard even before I can remember really watching movies, it is just a name that becomes one in the same with the industry. While his presence is always somewhere in Hollywood Land, I have never actually heard him speak about his work until this DVD. To my surprise and naivety, he is an extremely articulate and passionate man. Given his 50year plus career, you would have to be in order to get anywhere in this crazy industry, but what I like most is that he truly loves films, actors & story. Kansas City may not be the apex of his career, but damned if he cares. He enjoys the interaction between his characters, and is especially fond of some things that I hated watching pre-commentary, but learned to appreciate afterward (e.g. the character of Blondie being deliberately overacted to get that 30s feel).

The man is 80years old and he is still, for better or worse, putting out material. Even if you do not like some of his ‘director-for-hire’ films, you still got to love a guy who is working his craft when most people his age are pushing up worms. Still, it is one commentary track on a film that could have benefited from a little more attention.

6 out of 10

"Lesbian scene? Well how did I get this all over my face? Damn you, Buck Adams!"

The Artwork

Ugh… Once again, the floating heads thing. I do not know how many times this has been discussed and debated, but I think it is a universal opinion amoung friend and fiend that absolutely nobody likes that floating head layout. It is cheap and easy, but most of all it almost always sells the film short. No matter what genre, star or studio you peruse, you cannot escape the wrath of 1st semester graphic design dropouts around the globe executing their vengeance upon the medium with this crap…

Oh yeah, guess what. Kansas City has floating heads. Enjoy!

3 out of 10

"Thanks, Harry. You do a great Buck Adams impression."

Overall: 5.7 out of 10