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Crazy love; Timing is everything for documentary about '70s scandal

Errol Morris' quirky true-love-true-crime documentary "Tabloid," about a bizarre 1970s case of abduction (or not) and sexual assault (or not) appears on screens in equally bizarre alignment with current events.

It has trashy British tabloids behaving badly, upright Mormons, indignant denials of sexual shenanigans and panting paparazzi. (And cloned dogs from Korea, but that's almost besides the point.)

In the hands of someone like the "Dateline" crew, the story of former beauty pageant regular Joyce McKinney could be reduced to a simple back and forth of old headlines and reporter narration, questions with not so simple answers:

Did she, in 1977, fly to Great Britain with a private pilot, a Gold's Gym muscle man and an unrequited lover to kidnap a Mormon missionary who had rejected her in Utah, tie him to a bed in a Dorset cottage and rape him repeatedly over three days, only to set him free over lunch in Trafalgar Square, so he could notify police and turn her in?

Maybe yes, or, maybe something else. As McKinney tells Morris, "It's not a porno story it's a love story."

The modern day McKinney is an active participant in Morris' film, and he, the filmmaker, is not. She readily, happily and at times gleefully recounts her version of those long ago events, and of her adventures since that time. Kirk Anderson, the "manacled Mormon," reportedly lives in Utah with a family and did not want to participate in the film -- but a number of other people did.

Morris clearly does enjoy talking with McKinney and lets her hold forth unchallenged: She's very bright, she says, with an IQ of 168 (eight points higher than Einstein and Bill Gates); and all she ever wanted was to spend her life with a really special guy.

That turned out to be Anderson, whom she met in Utah when both were about 20, right before the 6-foot-3, 300-pound Mormon was sent to London to fulfill his missionary commitment. McKinney, obsessed, became determined to rescue him from this "cult" and to save him with sex.

Morris lets this tease of a story play out, with commentary from McKinney's pilot friend who was going to whisk Anderson away (but dropped out at the last minute) and tabloid reporter Peter Tory and photographer Kent Gavin.

The trashy, funny sex story of a former Miss Wyoming keeping a Mormon missionary tied to a bed in rural England to stimulate his sex drive so they would "have to get married" was irresistible. And, in McKinney's version, it was all consensual (you can't rape a man, she said, it would be like trying to put a marshmallow in a parking meter), and an act of love between two virgins.

That was before the tabloids tracked down her dominatrix past in California, the racy nude photos and the titillating ads for sex services in the free papers. And, while they couldn't hack her cellphone back then, they did get her phone records.

Was it all a cruel plot for publicity and fame? McKinney, talking to Morris, denies it with an impressive vigor. "I didn't plan on the tabloids destroying my life, or the Mormons, or the wire services," she says.

Reporter Tory actually agrees, in a way. "She's not an evil person," he says with a smile. "She's just crazy, eccentric, self-obsessed, manipulative and barking mad!"

That should be enough to interest most people in her story and Morris' delightful film.

And for those needing more? There's still the coda about Booger the pit bull, who saved McKinney's life and lives on in all his clones.




3 1/2 stars (out of 4)    

STARRING: Joyce McKinney, Peter Tory and Kevin Gant.    

DIRECTOR: Errol Morris    

RUNNING TIME: 88 minutes    

RATING: Rated R for sexual content and nudity.    

THE LOWDOWN: Documentary of Joyce McKinney, the main figure in Great Britain's 1970's tabloid sensation, "The Case of the Manacled Mormon."    

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