Keys to Tulsa

Austin Chronicle

DIRECTED BY: Leslie Greif

REVIEWED: 07-14-97

Eric Stoltz, Cameron Diaz, Mary Tyler Moore, James Coburn, James Spader, Michael Rooker, Joanna Going, Deborah Kara Unger. (R, 113 min.)

When a film with a cast this stellar falls flat on its face like this one does, well, it makes you wanna holler. Director Leslie Greif, the writer of Less than Zero and the producer of Walker: Texas Ranger ("in its first season," astutely notes the press materials), delivers this semi-sorry mish-mash of outlandish, Carrot- Top- is- too- sublime- for- me acting and off-kilter suspense that seems to be held together simply by sheer force of will. Certainly the script isn't helping any. Stoltz plays Richter Boudreau, a spoiled, rich white kid with a penchant for cocaine and other people's wives, who becomes embroiled in a blackmail scam run by Ronnie (Spader), the white-trash husband of Richter's old flame Vicky (Unger). The fact that the object of the blackmail in question is the son of the town's chief mover and shaker is undermined by the sudden love affair between junkie/dancer Cherry (Going) and Richter's psychotic, wildcatter brother Keith (Rooker). What was once a seemingly simple sting ends up one of the more unnecessarily complicated plots to come down the pike in some time, though the fact that Going keeps her clothes off most of the time makes everything a little easier on the eyes. That aside, it should be noted that Spader manages to salvage his performance nicely. It's an edgy little dance he does here, chock full of Elvis sideburns, Orbison shades, and a dreamy, schemey junkie logic, but unfortunately it's not enough to keep Keys to Tulsa afloat. After the romantic interlude of Going's performance in Still Breathing (which to date has only screened at film festivals - such as SXSW), it's a shock, of sorts, to see her as an alcoholic topless dancer with a penchant for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Not a bad shock, mind you, just, you know, a shock. She's miscast, though, and the role sags under her chipper perkiness. Coburn appears to be little more than window dressing, as does Moore. Rooker's so far over the top he's practically banging his fuzzy little redneck head on the Mir space station. What is the point of all this Sturm und Drang, I repeatedly asked myself during the screening. Near as I could come up with, executive producer Michael Birnbaum and company assumed that with a cast like this, linear plotting and at least some tenuous strain of logic was unnecessary. Well, assumptions like that can be bad for your careers, gentlemen. Precious little suspense and too many convoluted subplots do not a film noir make.

1.5 stars

--Marc Savlov

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