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Keys to Tulsa

Artisan // R // December 17, 2002
List Price: $14.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Jason Bovberg | posted January 24, 2003 | E-mail the Author

WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?

The frustratingly mediocre film that is Leslie Greif's Keys to Tulsa can be summed up in the strange cameo that Cameron Diaz supplies in the film's opening minutes: shrill, talky, and clueless. As the film progresses, you'll be thinking, What the hell is going on here?—typically a fine reaction to an unfolding noir—but in this case, you'll still be asking the same question at the film's end, and worse, you'll know that the answer lies in the film's failure on many levels.

Eric Stoltz plays Richter Boudreau, movie critic for the Tulsa Journal, and, from what we gather as the film meanders along, something of a brainless loser. He smokes a lot (as if trying to will himself cool), seems incapable of making a sound decision, and is a social idiot. He's surrounded by amazing scum, in the form of Vicky Stover (Deborah Kara Unger, looking whory and baaaaad), Ronnie (a hilariously miscast James Spader, trying to twist his tongue around a southern accent), and Vicky's brother Keith (Michael Rooker, embarrassing himself). Richter gets gullibly roped into some kind of blackmail scheme, and the movie just sort of lays there and lets stuff happen. Keys to Tulsa doesn't seem to even understand its own plot.

There's a brow-furrowing disconnectedness to the proceedings, as Richter wanders from scene to scene, falling for a lovely young stripper (Joanna Going, frequently nude) in one subplot, nursing a schoolboy crush on Vicky in another, and trying to wrestle cash from his brittle mother (Mary Tyler Moore) in another. The subplots crash against each other, clanging loudly. Rather than give us a smoothly intricate narrative, Greif just lets the sleazy events unfold haphazardly until the 90-minute mark, when it's time to lasso everything together into a package the exact dimensions of a yawn.

It's a film that strives for attitude but succeeds only in seeming to be desperately striving. It tries to appear complex with all its twists and turns but succeeds only in thoroughly confusing its audience. A key component of any noir film is that we somehow identify with the protagonist and feel for his plight amid sordid and criminal goings-on. But Richter is such a dunderhead, floating along thoughtlessly with the filthy current, that we can only scream, Get a clue!

(It should be noted that this DVD presents Keys to Tulsa in its R-rated version. An unrated cut of the film, containing 3 extra minutes of depravity, exists...but not here.)

HOW'S IT LOOK?

Disappointingly, Artisan presents Keys to Tulsa in a seemingly pan-and-scan full-frame transfer of the film's original 1.85:1 presentation. I'm not entirely sure that this is a pan-and-scan effort, but several scenes looked uncomfortably cropped on the sides. If you can get past the framing problems, the transfer is pretty good. Detail reaches into backgrounds, and colors look rich and accurate. I noticed some aliasing along hard edges, though.

HOW'S IT SOUND?

The disc offers only a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix. Dialog sounds clear and accurate, with only the tiniest bit of edginess at the high end. The score fares well. Not a particularly aggressive soundtrack, but it gets the job done.

WHAT ELSE IS THERE?

The DVD contains one extra, and it's laughable in its insignificance. You can page through eight promotional photographs in a Photo Gallery.

WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?

Keys to Tulsa is all empty attitude, with nothing underneath. That, combined with a mediocre DVD presentation, warrants only a rental, at most.

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