Reviewed By Jack Sommersby
Posted 03/01/04 11:33:17

"Neither 'Twisted' Nor Plausible Enough"
1 stars (Sucks)

Decent potential is wasted due to indifferent handling and logic loopholes.

Never quite making up its mind whether it's a psychological drama or psychological thriller, the Philip Kaufman-directed Twisted winds up traveling a middling road to mediocrity. What we have is Ashley Judd (still trying to recapture the fire of her titanic performance in the extraordinary Eye of the Beholder) starring as Jessica Shepard, a newly-promoted San Francisco homicide inspector who discovers a most disquieting aspect to her first investigation: severely beaten corpses of men who just happen to have been one-night-stands of hers. Shepard, a tough-willed survivor of a traumatic childhood (her policeman father went on a rampage one night and killed her mother), has a chip on her shoulder a mile wide and an affinity for rough, no-strings-attached sex; so it's only fitting that she becomes the number-one suspect of the murders she's investigating. The film not only wants the audience to ponder whether the violence is coming from Jessica's pent-up rage, but also whether the culprit is actually: Jessica's new partner Mike Delmarco (Andy Garcia, in a rare terrible performance); police commissioner John Mills (a nondescript Samuel L. Jackson), a former partner of Jessica's father who adopted her; ex-lover/policeman Jimmy Schmidt (a hammy Mark Pellegrino); ex-lover/defense attorney Dale Becker (an entertainingly swank Titus Welliver); or her departmental psychiatrist (a fine David Strathairn). Unfortunately, with a dire lack of viable clues and too-easy-to-cross-off suspects, the proceedings play out unsuccessfully as a whodunit; and, when revealed, its accompanying whydunit angle isn't any better realized, either. Perhaps if the characters were interesting and three-dimensional, they could have helped alleviate these most bothersome burdens, but they're essentially just walking-and-talking props plotted onto a haphazardly-structured storyline that's continually straining plausibility. Further handicapping matters is the skew handling by a director not up to the tasks required.

Kaufman proved with films as outstanding and diverse as The Great Northfield, Minnesota Raid, the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Wanderers, and The Right Stuff that he possessed the makings of a first-rate director. However, something started to go awry when he took on the costume-period dramas The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Henry & June and Quills: his work became overly fussy and stiff, like the second coming of James Ivory with only a smidgen more imagination. What was undeniably alive and passionate in his former films was vitally absent in the emptied-out reservoirs of his latter ones, where a seemingly free-associative instinct got smothered by a studied overdeliberateness that drained the vitality of such provocative subjects as a quintessential horny Czech doctor, Henry Miller, and the Marquis de Sade. It became depressingly clear that Kaufman favored being viewed as a maker of "dignified" productions rather than of risk-taking ones that could have challenged him as well as his audience. While his work in Twisted is more lively than usual, it's still too heavy-handed to appropriately treat material that is, basically, pulp. Kaufman tries to delve into a problematic screenplay to unearth subtext where there is none (Jessica's torturous past is Psych 101 stuff with delusions of grandeur) yet pulls back from the seedier aspects of Jessica's obsession with rough sex (the men's bodies are more lavishly photographed when they're dead than alive), and due to his all-thumbs attempts at suspense, it's as if he'd never seen a thriller before. Numerous red herrings are flatly presented, as well as several tired cutaways to Delmarco's reactions to suggest questionable duplicity, and there are two botched sequences where we're aware that a corpse is in the heroine's presence before she is. Even standard "Boo!" moments fail to elicit a cheap, easy response from the audience because Kaufman telegraphs each one with the finesse of an inebriated Okie.

Twisted is reasonably atmospheric due to the immeasurable help of cinematographer Peter Deming (Mulholland Dr.) and Kaufman's unbeatable eye for detail and location shooting; working in his home venue of San Francisco (the same one he used to brilliant hallucinogenic effect in Body Snatchers), Kaufman works up wonderful textures that are compatibly reflective of the characters' moods, and he serves up a standout scene where a body is recovered by police with a luminously lit Candlestick Park residing in the background. But the film lacks the sustained suspense and underlying sense of dread thrillers need for narrative propulsion. Far too many pregnant pauses abound that remind us we're not getting anywhere (which are weighted down by Judd's leaky lead performance), an extraneous subplot involving a rich-kid psychopath captured by Jessica is just a lame attempt to suggest the 'ol "thin line between cop and criminal" theory (which was better developed in Bill Duke's Deep Cover and Sondra Locke's Impulse), and the suggestion of a doppelganger parallel between the sexually violent Jessica and her potential physically-personified killer Id promises more than what's delivered (a similar flaw in Richard Tuggle's much-better Tightrope). I could never figure out the relevance of an elderly Oriental neighbor of Jessica's fearfully staring at her through her kitchen window, or why the majority of the male inspectors hostile to Jessica didn't leak the juicy details of the case to the press to get her thrown off it, or (hell) why an observant Jessica can recall miniature details from a quick glimpse of a room yet fumbles about for an eternity trying to snatch her dropped cell phone from underneath her car rather than simply just starting and backing the damn thing up. Twisted is too innately asinine to complexly involve, too stagnantly paced and tasteful to qualify as guiltily-enjoyable trash, and, finally, too destructively indecisive about its own identity. When you get right down to it, Philip Kaufman and screenwriter Sarah Thorp, rather than Jessica, would have been better off seeing the shrink.

Skip it.

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.