Keys to Tulsa
Richter Boudreau, Eric Stoltz; Trudy, Cameron Diaz; Louise Brinkman, Randy Graff; Preston Liddy, Dennis Letts; Cynthia Boudreau, Mary Tyler Moore; Billy, Josh Ridgway; Bedford Shaw, Marco Perella; Harmon Shaw, James Coburn; Vicky Michaels Stover, Deborah Kara Unger; Ronnie Stover, James Spader; Keith Michaels, Michael Rooker; Cherry, Joanna Going. Screenplay by Harley Peyton. Based on the novel by Brian Fair Berkey. Directed by Leslie Greif. A Gramercy Pictures release. Rated R: nudity, profanity and violence. Opens today at the Cherry Creek.

Who's it for? Adults.

Keys to Tulsa is the ultimate B-movie, and that's not a bad thing.

This finely acted, tawdry little movie has the same low-rent morality as lots of recent movies, and may make audiences think they've stumbled into Quentin Tarantino territory. It's true, but that doesn't mean Tulsa isn't worth a visit by those who like their movies down-and-dirty.
The story centers on Richter Boudreau (Eric Stoltz), an under-achieving young man who has landed a job at the local newspaper. Want to know how low he's sunk? I'll tell you: He's reduced to writing film reviews.

But Richter really is drifting through his life and through the lives of old friends. The plot involves a murder mystery and blackmail, but that's not really the point. Keys To Tulsa means to parade its wacked-out characters before us. It does.
Two of the best are played in cameo by Mary Tyler Moore and James Coburn. She's Richter's mom, a woman whose lips look swollen with collagen and who's accumulating marriages the way other people collect matchbook covers. Coburn portrays the town's big shot, an oil baron with a taste for fine cigars and a distaste for Richter, who once slept with his daughter.

The rest of the cast is equally good, but the real surprise is James Spader. He plays an Elvis type from the wrong side of the tracks. With his hair dyed black, he gives the most unusual performance of his career, abandoning yuppie smoothness in favor of something more primitive.
As is the case with most such movies, the women are meant to project a mixture of heat and savvy. Deborah Kara Unger, a blond whose drawl makes it seem as if words are sauntering sexily out of her mouth, is plenty sultry. Joanna Going appears as a stripper with a part-time interest in drugs.

For every sexpot, there must also be a nut job. Michael Rooker handles those chores. He's Unger's brother, a loose-cannon character who reeks of danger. His idea of a good time involves ``breaking things into little pieces.''

If Stoltz, with his Leave It To Beaver voice, is slightly bland, maybe that's how it's supposed to be. He's at the center of the storm and can't be overly turbulent.

What bothered me about Tulsa was a tendency to become a little too mean-spirited. At one point, a character repeats a racial joke she has heard. It's told to illustrate another character's racist attitudes, but that should have been done directly. As it stands, the joke seems gratuitous. Sometimes, it's difficult to be amused by characters who also disgust us.

For the most part, though, director Leslie Greif's debut film purrs along with the requisite nastiness. Working from a script by Harley Peyton, Greif doesn't conclude in a novel enough way, but there's lots of bumpy fun before this road reaches its conclusion.

Rocky Mountain News (Denver, CO); 4/11/1997; Denerstein, Robert
©1997 Rocky Mountain News. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of the Dialog Corporation by Gale Group.

(Thank you, kitkat)