The jazz world of 1930s Kansas City serves as the backdrop for an offbeat story of kidnapping, political corruption, and organized crime in director Robert Altman's loving but unsentimental look at his childhood hometown. The film's intricate story is triggered by petty thief Johnny O'Hara (Dermot Mulroney), who aims for a big score by trying to rob notorious crime boss Seldom Seen (Harry Belafonte), only to end up Seen's captive. In fear for her husband's life, Johnny's wife Blondie (Jennifer Jason Leigh) decides to take action. Following an eccentric personal logic, she takes as a hostage the wife of a prominent local politician, in hopes of getting the woman's husband to help; unfortunately, he is on the road with an upcoming presidential campaign, putting a major hitch in Blondie's plans. The film moves freely among its idiosyncratic characters in an overt attempt to mimic the improvisational structure of 1930s jazz. Indeed, many of the film's most important sequences take place in Seldom Seen's club, with contemporary jazz greats imitating the period's master musicians and Harry Belafonte shining as the magnetic, menacing Seen. The central narrative never achieves the seemingly effortless integration of Altman's greatest works, but those who share Altman's obvious passion for the period and its music will find much to admire.