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In the early part of her career, before she had much say in it, Ashley Judd made some good movies. Even now, if she drops into somebody else's film, it isn't quite the kiss of death. She has a presence, and not just because at times she is insanely hot. But right now, the surest way to tell a movie will be bad is if Judd is front and center in it. Twisted, however, drags down a boatload of bad movies. At parties, Double Jeopardy pretends not to know it.

Ostensibly written by Sarah Thorp, Twisted really feels like a bunch of classic thrillers got cut up, mixed up, randomly reassembled and then dumbed down for the rubes. The ads carry the tagline, "every murder has its mark." Well, in this case, the mark is the audience. Maybe that's not how the filmmakers meant it.

Cinematographer Peter Deming lovingly caresses Judd's face with his opening shot, and it's downhill from there, as it pulls back to reveal a knife to her throat. Serial killer Edmund Cutler (Leland Orser) has her in his clutches, but it's all a ruse on her part. For Judd's character Jessica Shepard is a supercop, struggling to bury her past as the daughter of a cop who went on a killing spree before ending her mother's life and then his own. Though it's gutsy and foolhardy, Shepard has lured Cutler to a yard full of memorials to defecation (not really, but that's what it looks like - and it sets the tone).

Tonight's production will feature Edmund Cutler in the role of Hannibal Lecter, only not nearly as cultured, clever or insightful. From time to time, Shepard will visit him in his cell while he hectors her about how alike they are.

He may be more right than he knows, because soon after she makes Inspector, people Shepard sleeps with turn up dead, horribly gutted with a cigarette burn on their hands. Coincidentally, the lovely Inspector drinks a lot and suffers blackouts. Could Shepard be a serial killer, and could she perhaps divert suspicion by pegging this as a serial killer right after the first murder?

Too many movies insult an audience's intelligence, but Twisted has a special kind of contempt. In this day and age, there are too many decent and popular cop shows for a major motion picture to try to squeak by on utterly ridiculous plot turns. Instead of investigating Shepard as soon as a second body shows up, her immediate supervisor (Russell Wong) commends her on her instincts - but not her basic instincts.

In the world of this movie, it is enough to acknowledge that Shepard should be a suspect. Knowing that all the other detectives, except for her doe-eyed partner Mike Delmarco (Andy Garcia), think she's a killer should be enough to keep her on the straight and narrow. But her mentor and foster father, Police Commissioner John Mills (Samuel L. Jackson), vouches for her, so hey, it's really okay.

Somewhere, Paramount Pictures must have photographs of director Philip Kaufman engaged in sexual congress with a goat. If not, they'll have plenty of blackmail material from here on out, because it's almost inconceivable that the guy who gave us The Right Stuff, Henry & June and Quills can not pull anything entertaining, erotic or even vaguely interesting out of this material.

Jackson should probably hang his head, too, or at least refrain from considering himself a bad-ass for a while. But he's only phoning it in. Leave Garcia out of it; a mushroom among actors, he is only as good as the movie around him, unable to give it any flavor himself. And Wong, well, he's a good actor boxed into an untenable position, given nothing to do.

Because the not untalented Judd broke through into the mainstream with Kiss The Girls, she has somehow got the idea that psychosexual thrillers are safe territory for her. But on film, she tends to find one note and play it over and over. Here, it's a flat one, and we have no sense of what really makes Shepard tick. (The title allegedly refers to her fear of becoming like her father, who loved her mother so much "…it twisted him.") Since her mother had an affair or two, the script says that automatically translates into a lot of meaningless sex, but (and please forgive this phrasing) Judd is an actress who almost never looks like she wants it. It's less than meaningless; it's dramatically pointless.

Couple that with Judd's tragic taste in material. If she claims this script attracted her, it can only be because she recognized ten or fifteen of her favorite films in it. You've seen it all before; worse, you've heard it all before, as there's not an original line in the whole thing. (Imagine how horrible Catwoman must be if Ashley Judd backed out of it.)

It's just a shame. Most of the people involved are capable of good work. Instead, they just seem like they were there to hang out in San Francisco.



Derek McCaw

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