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CRUDE OASIS, THE (director/writer: Alex Graves; cinematographer: Steven Quale; editor: Alex Graves; music: Steven Bramson; cast: Jennifer Taylor (Karen Webb), Robert Peterson (Jim Webb), Aaron Shields (Harley Underwood), Lynn Bieler (Stone), Mussef Sibay (The Lover), Roberta Eaton (Cheri); Runtime: 81; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Alex Graves; Miramax Films; 1995)
It’s a crude, bleak, slow-moving and pretentious picture of life in a dusty oil producing town in Kansas.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Alex Graves (“Casualties”), in his directorial debut, directs, writes, edits and produces this low-budget indie mood piece attempt at neo-noir. It’s a crude, bleak, slow-moving and pretentious picture of life in a dusty oil producing town in Kansas. It was shot in the director’s hometown of El Dorado, Kansas, and took just two weeks to shoot. It remains annoyingly ambiguous and too cold, austere and distant to make us care about any of its depressing characters. It never adds up to much of anything but a bleak mood piece. Weary childless housewifeKaren Webb (Jennifer Taylor) is stuck for the last ten years in a loveless marriage to refinery manager Jim (Robert Peterson), a guy who speaks as if he were a robot. Karen suffers from bad dreams, while hubby slips out nights to be with his lover. When Karen confronts hubby, he confesses but is unwilling to give up the marriage or his lover. Unable to commit suicide in her failed attempt at carbon monoxide poisoning in her garage, because of a low gas tank, Karen goes to the near-by gas station to fill up and is surprised the new gas attendant Harley (Aaron Shields) is the same menacing young man in her dreams. Karen follows the soft-spoken inarticulate man to the remote prairie honky-tonk dive called the Crude Oasis and begins a strange relationship with the depressing Harley to learn his identity and why he’s in her dreams.

I give it credit for being unpredictable. But if it’s trying to say something about lonely housewives identifying themselves with their husbands and having no life of their own, it could have been clearer in making that point, its characters could have had more depth and it could have told a more well-thought out story than one that carelessly veers between being a mystery story and being a lonely hearts tale.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”