February 27, 2004 9:30am EST
Jessica Shephard (Ashley Judd) has just been promoted to police inspector with the San Francisco Police Department's Homicide Unit and her first case--a man found beaten to death on the beach--proves unsettling: She had a one-night stand with the victim a few months back. Shaken Jessica downs a bottle of red wine rummages through an old box containing gruesome black-and-white photos of a man with a bullet in the head and some dingy Raggedy Ann dolls. Turns out Jessica has some serious issues. Her father a police officer was a serial killer who ended up murdering his wife before turning the gun on himself making Jessica an orphan at the age of 6. This tough-as-nails cop appears composed on the surface but she indulges in self-destructive late-night activities including engaging in violent sex with strangers and drinking until she blacks out. Within a week two more of Jessica's former flames turn up dead and all three bodies bear the distinguished signature of a serial killer--a cigarette burn on the back of the left hand. Since she can't remember anything that happened during her blackouts Jessica starts to suspect she might be responsible for the murders. On the other hand she can't shake the feeling she's being followed and her new partner Mike (Andy Garcia) has been behaving strangely showing up on her doorstep in the wee hours of the night. A tormented Jessica seeks comfort from John (Samuel L Jackson) her mentor and an old friend of her father's who seems to think she needs protection--from herself. Could Jessica be the very killer she is tracking?
Judd tones down the Hollywood glam here and with her makeup-free complexion she actually looks like a real cop. But her physical transformation doesn't overcome the inherent flaws in the way the character is written. While we should feel sympathy for Jessica because of her childhood trauma we don't for all kinds of reasons. Her character doesn't think she has a problem for one and she never develops close relationships in the film except maybe with a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon and the stringy-haired strangers she has violent sexual liaisons with. Even Jessica's revelations to a staff psychiatrist are superficial. While it's almost impossible to warm up to Judd's character it's even more difficult to relate to her relationships with leading males. As Mike Jessica's partner Garcia constantly spews cop-thriller clichés about their unspoken loyalty and trust as colleagues but for all his talk we never actually see that kind of bond between them. How can these cops who only met a week before be expected to have instant loyalty? What's worse the sleazy pass he makes at a boozy Jessica one night squashes his character's potential to be the film's only good guy. Jessica's relationship with John who is supposed to be her mentor at the police department is equally hard to swallow. Jackson is great at making his character chillingly creepy but if the audience can sense his deviousness within 10 minutes why hasn't Jessica picked up on it after years of knowing him personally and professionally?
It's hard to believe that Twisted comes from Philip Kaufman the same director who brought us opuses The Right Stuff and The Unbearable Lightness of Being. While Kaufman uses his trademark visual style to capture the briny and foggy feel of the San Francisco Bay area Twisted suffers from the same sorry plot predicament his 1993 adaptation of Michael Crichton's novel Rising Sun did: It's utterly predictable. But rather than remedy the story Kaufman and co-writer Sarah Thorp toss one red herring after an another hoping to keep viewers off the scent. Case in point: Every time Jessica suspects someone is watching her we hear the distinctive sounds of someone repeatedly flipping a lighter cover so it's safe to assume the bad guy will be the one who carries a lighter and not the one who lights his cigarettes with matches right? The film adds distractions to conceal the obvious including Jessica waking up with unexplained blood on her hand and her jealous ex-boyfriend constantly breaking into her house. There are so many diversions at work here that the film becomes a joke one that culminates with a hokey punch line as the antagonist spills out an elaborate confession that partly patches up any holes in the outrageous plot.