Directed by: Philip Kaufman
Starring: Ashley Judd, Andy Garcia, Samuel L. Jackson, David Strathairn, Russell Wong
If you think that Ashley Judd and Samuel L. Jackson couldn't possibly be in anything more tepid -- or boring -- than High Crimes and No Good Deed respectively, then you haven't yet seen Twisted -- a shoo-in for worst "thriller" of 2004.
You look at the cast and you look at the director, and all you can do is wonder how on earth any of them got involved in this depressingly witless mess. Most of the blame for how bad the movie is can be laid at the feet of Sarah Thorp's incredibly lame, transparent and cliche-ridden screenplay ("I was raised by a good person, but I come from bad blood"); however, the script didn't create Kaufman's deadly, doom-laden, downright-silly approach to the material, nor did it dictate that the actors should substitute a handful of repetitive mannerisms for performances. Let's put it this way: There's plenty of blame to go around, but the screenplay is the most obvious culprit.
Judd plays policewoman Jessica Shepard, who's suddenly boosted to homicide detective when she nails a high-profile killer. It doesn't hurt that her guardian, John Mills (Jackson -- who seems not to realize he's named after Hayley Mills' father), is the police commissioner. No sooner does Jessica get this promotion than her old boyfriends -- or, more properly, her string of one-night-stand bar pickups -- start turning up brutally murdered with a "signature" cigarette burn on the backs on their hands.
To complicate matters, Jessica has a murky ancestry -- which we learn about through the labored device of having her sent to the department shrink, Dr. Melvin Frank (did no one realize this was the name of a famous comedy writer/director?), played with over-the-top red-herring menace by David Strathairn (Harrison's Flowers). It seems her policeman father went on a killing spree that ended in suicide when he found out that Jessica's mother was cheating on him. (This apparently accounts for her kicking a perpetrator in the face.)
It gets worse, because all of these murders are occurring after Jessica knocks back her nightly glass-and-a-half of cabernet commode-hugger (apparently all from the same never-emptying bottle), whereupon she blacks out after her eyes roll back in her head (the effect becomes comical). Could Jessica be committing these murders during these blackouts? The dictates of Hollywood 101 scripting say probably not, which leaves the viewer with three other suspects -- only one of whom makes any logical sense, or even any Hollywood sense. (Name star with limited screen time is almost always a dead giveaway.)
The mystery is hardly baffling, though whether anyone involved thought it might be is a puzzler of some note. Twisted might have made for entertaining junk, but the tone of the film is deadly serious (which does make for more than a few moments of unintentional humor). It plays rather like In the Cut -- except with a star with a no-nudity clause in her contract. (The avoidance of showing any of Judd's more personal body parts results in one of the most awkward bathtub exits in living memory.) As it is, Twisted is humorless, mysteryless and suspenseless -- a real triple-threat.
A friend of mine who saw the movie before I did thought it should rate maybe one-and-a-half stars. I'm still trying to figure out what prompted his extra half-star's worth of generosity.
-- reviewed by Ken Hanke