Keys to Tulsa

on April 11, 1997 by Christine James
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   Richter Boudreau (Eric Stoltz), a ne'er-do-well prodigal son, returns to his hometown of Tulsa to try for a fresh start with the help of his affluent high-society mother (Mary Tyler Moore), but instead discovers that you can't go home again--unless you want to hang out with your self-destructive loser friends and get entangled in a dangerous blackmail plot.
   Richter's irresponsible ways have earned the contempt of his mother, who refuses to help him. While trying to figure out his next move, he must also contend with his feelings toward his sultry former sweetheart, Vicky (Deborah Kara Unger), who's unhappily married with child to Ronnie (James Spader), a cocky, unshaven, Elvis-coiffed, drug-abusing lout who's simultaneously sedate and intimidatingly on the edge. Unfortunately, Richter owes Ronnie money that he can't pay back and is therefore forced to become a pawn in Ronnie's blackmail plan. It seems a stripper friend of Ronnie's (Joanna Going) witnessed the murder of a prostitute--and the killer (Marco Perella) happens to be the son of the wealthiest, most powerful man in town (James Coburn). While getting unwillingly involved in that scheme, Richter pals around with his rich but delinquent buddy Keith (Michael Rooker) and falls for the blackmailing stripper.
   The plot and connections between the characters in "Keys to Tulsa" are at first somewhat confusing, and all of the protagonists are repellently mired in horrible lives of their own creation. The film would have been better buoyed as a black comedy if Richter as the antihero were more charming in his flaws. Instead, he's a little too far on the side of pathetic, causing his caustic barbs and wry observations to fall flat. More than anything, Stoltz ends up being a straight man to a collection of eccentricly divergent, psychologically askew characters, all well-played--particularly Unger as the beautiful but tragic fallen southern belle who's striving for a better life in all the wrong ways. Spader is also noteworthy as the lackadaisically dangerous Ronnie. Eventually, "Keys to Tulsa" becomes less a suspense thriller and more a twisted but interesting character study. Starring Eric Stoltz, James Spader, Deborah Kara Unger, Joanna Going and Mary Tyler Moore. Directed by Leslie Greif. Written by Harley Peyton. Produced by Leslie Greif and Harley Peyton. A Gramercy release. Drama. Rated R for strong sexuality and language, and for some drug use and violence. Running time: 112 min
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