Tepid 'Tulsa' has bad Elvis and no Oklahoma


Well, excuse me, but any film calling itself "Keys to Tulsa" ought to be shot in the great state of Oklahoma, not in the overexposed city of Dallas, Texas, by the crew leftover from "Walker, Texas Ranger."

So that's one strike. Here's Strike Two: "Keys to Tulsa."

A not-good melodrama that's poorly acted and difficult to follow, the movie is also too long and violent. But it does have one aspect worth noting: James Spader as Elvis.

Not Elvis-Elvis, but an Elvis influencee, a dope dealer married to a disinherited rich girl who is currently blackmailing an oil-tycoon pervert for the murder of a black prostitute. And just to show he means business, guess who he gets to help him? A movie critic!

So you've got Spader -- usually a delicate neurasthenic intellectual -- wandering around in a black leather jacket and shades mumbling "Thankyew, thankewveramuch" and hapless little Eric Stoltz running around piping "On the other hand, Lewis returned to form in '56 with the release of 'Jumping Jacks'," while the hot item Deborah Kara Unger rubs up against everybody and good ole boy Michael Rooker is chewing the scenery as a crazy rich guy born in the wrong century who keeps sticking his six-gun into his mouth and pulling the trigger to see if it's loaded. Are these kids having fun or what?

The biggest joke in the movie is trying to guess who is most inappropriately cast. Spader as Elvis? That's funny. Stoltz as an Oklahoma movie critic? Even funnier. But what about Mary Tyler Moore as a tough-talking Oklahoma oil widow -- and Stoltz's mother? Or Peter Strauss as an unctuous lawyer? The button-cute Joanna Going as a stripper?

I can say categorically something I thought I'd never say: Here is a movie that would actually be improved by the presence of Chuck Norris.

'Keys to Tulsa'

Starring Eric Stoltz and James Spader

Directed by Leslie Greif

Released by Gramercy

Rated R (violence and sex)

Sun score **

Pub Date: 4/11/97

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