Friday April 11, 1997
You can well imagine that as a murder mystery with some well-drawn colorful characters, "Keys to Tulsa" would make a good read. Harley Peyton's script from Brian Fair Berkey's novel is multifaceted and effective. But, unfortunately, Leslie Greif, in his directorial debut, lacks the authority and a noirish sense of style to make the film work as well as it should. The result is a diverting, if occasionally awkward and improbable, entertainment better suited to the tube than to the big screen.
Eric Stoltz, however, is very good in the lead as Tulsa aristocrat Richter Boudreau, a "black sheep son of a black sheep," who's about to lose his highly improbable job as a movie reviewer on the local paper. (Forget about him missing deadlines; we never see him going to screenings in the first place!) He's penniless, but his hard-hearted mother (Mary Tyler Moore), born poor but who married money only to find misery, is not about to bail him out.
This makes him vulnerable to the blackmailing schemes of Ronnie Stover (James Spader), a drug-dealing low-life married to Richter's childhood friend Vicky (Deborah Kara Unger), a voluptuous type who was disinherited when she married Ronnie and has become dangerously bored. Even more dangerous is her likable but wastrel, burned-out brother Keith (Michael Rooker), as seedy-looking as his family's immense columned mansion. Rounding out the key characters are Joanna Going's drug-addicted stripper, witness to a brutal murder, and James Coburn, as a rich, menacing good ol' boy.
"Keys to Tulsa," which is shot through with sleazy sexual innuendo, dark humor and sharp social observation, is as concerned with Richter's struggle to grow up and get a life as it is in solving its murder, which is not all that mysterious. Stoltz, in a highly concentrated portrayal, holds the film together and makes us care about Richter, who is on the verge of becoming caught up in a dissolute, potentially lethal undertow.
With dyed Elvis-style black hair and sideburns, Spader has a terrific presence as do Rooker, Moore, Unger, Coburn and most everyone else. The trouble is that Greif seems not to have given his notable cast much direction; there's not enough modulation and control of nervy performances going on here. Too much of the time the actors seem to be playing on a stage rather than for the camera.
"Keys to Tulsa" is engaging, but it's not half as good as it could have been.
Keys to Tulsa, 1997. R, for strong sexuality and language, and for some drug use and violence. A Gramercy Pictures release of a Polygram Filmed Entertainment presentation of an ITC Entertainment Group/Peyton/Greif production. Director Leslie Greif. Producers Greif, Harley Peyton. Executive producers Michael Birnbaum, Peter Isacksen. Screenplay by Peyton; based on the novel by Brian Fair Berkey. Cinematographer Robert Fraisse. Editors Eric L. Beason, Louis F. Cioffi, Michael R. Miller. Costumes Marie France. Music Stephen Edelman. Production designer Derek R. Hill. Running time: 1 hour, 52 minutes. Eric Stoltz as Richter Boudreau. Deborah Kara Unger as Vicky Michaels Stover. James Spader as Ronnie Stover. Michael Rooker as Keith Michaels. Mary Tyler Moore as Cynthia Boudreau. James Coburn as Harmon Shaw. Joanna Going as Cherry. Peter Strauss as Chip Carlson.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times