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Dustin Putman

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Twisted (2004)
1 Star

Directed by Philip Kaufman
Cast: Ashley Judd, Andy Garcia, Samuel L. Jackson, David Strathairn, Titus Welliver, Mark Pellegrino, Camryn Manheim, Leland Orser, Russell Wong, D.W. Moffett, Richard T. Jones, James Oliver Bullock, Veronica Cartwright
2004 – 97 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for violence, language, and sexuality).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, February 28, 2004.

The pedigree of "Twisted" elicits raised expectations that not only are never met, but don't even come within a reasonably close radius. Director Philip Kaufman has made 1978's creepy cult remake, "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," 1983's Oscar-winning "The Right Stuff," 1988's "The Unbearable Lightness of Being," and 2000's "Quills." Ashley Judd (2001's "Someone Like You"), Samuel L. Jackson (2002's "Changing Lanes"), and Andy Garcia (2001's "Ocean's Eleven") are first-rate, A-list actors who go far and beyond the call of duty in inhabiting most of their roles. Even cinematographer Peter Deming has created a number of impressively sleek products, including 2001's "Mulholland Drive" and "From Hell," and Mark Isham is a respected music composer (2003's "The Cooler," 2002's "Moonlight Mile"). What happened? I don't know. "Twisted" is the funniest unintentional comedy of the year.

San Francisco police detective Jessica Shepard (Ashley Judd) has barely finished celebrating her promotion to the homicide division when a rash of murders start up, all with the same calling card (a cigarette burn to the corpse's hand). With partner Mike Delmarco (Andy Garcia) by her side, Jessica may be equipped to handle the investigation, but one thing frightens her: she has had sexual relations with all of the victims. Not only that, but each murder seems to occur each time she drinks herself into a stupor and blacks out. Is she the killer herself and simply has no recollection? Is it Mike? Or maybe it's surrogate father and mentor John Mills (Samuel L. Jackson)? Or perhaps the culprit is stalker ex-boyfriend Jimmy (Mark Pellegrino)? As the final act lugubriously sets in, Jessica earnestly tells her shrink (David Strathairn), "I think I might be drinking too much." No shit, Sherlock.

The act of viewing "Twisted" can be approached from two directions, one with certain merits but both with a negative outcome. The first way to watch it is as a shamelessly commonplace and plodding motion picture—a thriller without thrills, a whodunit that can easily be predicted within the first five minutes, and a trashy direct-to-video effort stuck in fancy duds. The second path to take in sifting through the wreckage offers slightly more value: watching it as a laugh-a-minute comedy. For a serious-minded thriller, even one in the tried-and-true serial killer genre, "Twisted" is the downright wackiest, most laughable to come down the pike so far this millennium. Counting the ways could take up a book, as could the plot holes. How Sarah Thorp's asinine screenplay worked its way up to Paramount Pictures and got a greenlight may just be the $10-million question on an upcoming "Super Millionaire."

The disastrous writing of protagonist Jessica Shepard is the source of most of the comedic fodder. She is an allegedly promising police detective who sleeps around with so many guys, many of whom she picks up in bars, that seemingly every male she comes into contact with has been romantically linked to her. When she isn't delighting in rough and rowdy one night stands, she drunkenly stumbles around her apartment, eyes crossed and vision blurred, until she passes out. Despite a murder occurring every time she blacks out, it takes Jessica a ludicrously long time for her to connect the two events. For such a hotshot officer of the law, Jessica has to be one of the most daft and slutty heroines in big-budget cinema history. Getting busted over the head with a bag of bricks could only help this poor, poor soul.

Surrounding Jessica is a murder mystery that is lame and predictable from minute one. One would naturally assume that a movie called "Twisted" would have at least a few tricks up its sleeve, but one would be wrong. The film is exempt of suspense or even an inkling of originality. When the big reveal of the killer finally occurs and the end credits begin, all the viewer is left to do is roll their eyes, nudge the person next to them, say "I told you so," and curse ever setting foot in the theater to begin with.

The actors, who must have experienced delusions of grandeur to even agree to sign on, try their best but are stranded with characters worthy of little but ridicule. Ashley Judd is agreeable enough as Jessica, but this is not one of her stronger performances. Mostly, she makes lots of sloshed facial expressions that are pretty damned funny. As steadfast partner Mike, who might be hiding something, Andy Garcia fares the best, but should really think about firing his agent. And Samuel L. Jackson is virtually absent from the proceedings while he cashes his paycheck until the climax.

"Twisted" opens with a montage of lush, atmospheric shots of San Francisco that would be right at home in "House of Sand and Fog." Further attractive scenery of the Golden Gate City and added flavoring through its use of seals and, in one scene, a baseball stadium, set the audience up with a false hope that what they are watching might sway away from the norm. Unfortunately, "Twisted" sways in the wrong direction, becoming a desperately lame thriller whose only claim to fame may turn out to be its inadvertent comic streak. More likely it will wind up on the reduced racks at your local Best Buy by the end of the year, where it belongs.
© 2004 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman