"WHEN a middle-class teen- ager lives dangerously in a movie full of loud music and visual panache, a ''Flashdance'' or a ''Footloose'' or a ''Risky Business'' may be born. ''Tuff Turf'' has all these ingredients, along with another that's even more essential: enough visual bravado to overpower the peculiarities of its class pretensions.
After all, ''Tuff Turf,'' which opens today at the UA Twin and other theaters, has a once-affluent blond preppy type from Connecticut moving to a thug-ridden sector of Los Angeles. (Dad has bungled the family business, we are told in passing, and now drives a taxi). Morgan (James Spader), who's so cool he likes to read Shakespeare with his shades on, quickly antagonizes the hoods in his new public school. They soon take to beating him up and leaving dead rats in his locker.
On the plus side, he also sets his sights on a beautiful long-haired blonde named Frankie (Kim Richards), the girlfriend of the worst guy around, or at least the baddest. Once Frankie trades in her tire chains and spandex for a look that's more Connecticut, she turns out to be altogether demure. Miss Richards, it should be noted, worked in several Disney films before achieving the fashionable bad-girl look required for her Frankie role.
Fritz Kiersch, who previously directed ''Children of the Corn,'' gives the opening of ''Tuff Turf'' such an exciting spin that it takes a while for the story to sink in. Rain-drenched streets and neon signs form the backdrop for a quick, mysterious scene in which a mugging is interrupted by a stranger speeding by on a silver bicycle. This turns out to be Morgan, who looks very dangerous during the early part of the film, and who can hold his own against the gang that's out to get him. In a big production number that's all ready for the rock video market, he forces his attentions on Frankie in the middle of a crowded dance hall, thus throwing Nick (Paul Mones) into one of his habitual jealous rages.
After a while, the story's schizophrenia becomes unmistakable. Morgan actually switches from crew- neck sweater to black leather jacket on a scene-by-scene basis, donning the latter whenever it's time for some of the film's obligatory violence. In one sequence, he actually brings Frankie and two other friends (including Robert Downey, who's very appealing as Morgan's only ally) to a country club, where they all modify their outfits and hairdos just enough to enable them to crash a dance. Perhaps the strangest moment of all comes when Nick insists that Frankie marry him. Next thing we know, her supposedly lower-class father is breaking out the bubbly. True, he runs a liquor store and has the stuff on hand. But it's hard to believe any father, much less one who looks as down-at-the-heels as Frankie's, would be celebrating his daughter's engagement to someone who apparently never wears a shirt, not even in winter.
Mr. Kiersch makes the most of ''Tuff Turf'' anyhow, thanks to tense, angular camerawork, attention-getting editing (there is even some jump-cutting), and a galvanizing score. Marianne Faithfull sings a haunting opening song, and Jim Carroll, a renowned rock-and-roll wraith, is well used both on the soundtrack and in the dance-hall episode."
-Janet Maslin, The New York Times, 1985