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Twisted (2004) Print E-mail
Friday, 27 February 2004
But none of them can hold a snuffed candle to the badness of “Twisted.” In one sense, it’s not really Kaufman’s fault; he only directed the movie, he didn’t write the dreadful script. (Sarah Thorp did.) And Kaufman had to answer to a long list of directors; counting executive producers, “Twisted” features no fewer than seven producers, rarely a good sign.

However, Kaufman signed the damned thing; he is a writer himself (“Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “The Outlaw Josey Wales,” for example), and he should have found a way to alleviate the very low quality of Thorp’s script. He tries some fairly fancy camera stuff, and he does have a very good cast, but these do not offset the mind-numbingly routine and obvious script.

It’s a murder mystery, but anyone who’s even slightly familiar with the genre will realize that San Francisco police detective Jessica Shepard (Ashley Judd) cannot possibly be the killer, though the accumulating evidence increasingly points at her. So once you set her aside—and the movie barely makes a pretense of suggesting her guilt—it has to be someone else. Knowing that when the film starts, few will have any difficulty identifying the killer almost as soon as that character appears. Then the movie slowly plods through each little bit and piece of the highly familiar plot. Despite what the trailers claim, it’s devoid of surprises and twists, or any real suspense.

Jessica is a newly-minted homicide detective in San Francisco, having worked her way up from the ranks. She’s been aided by her mentor, police commissioner John Mills (Samuel L. Jackson), who was also on the SFPD force, the partner of Jessica’s long-dead father. Her new partner is Mike Delmarco (Andy Garcia), who’s willing to help her get past the resentful hazing of other homicide detectives.

Jessica has another side: she likes to pick up strangers in bars and have vigorous, even rough, sex with them, even if she rarely sees them again. One event that got her the promotion is what opens the film: she takes out stalker-killer Cutler (Leland Orser) by use of her martial arts skills. Later, claiming police brutality (now there’s one we haven’t heard in a while), he gets a lawyer Ray Porter (D.W. Moffett), another of the many lovers that litter Jessica’s past.

For unclear reasons, she’s been ordered to talk with a psychiatrist, Dr. Melvin Frank (David Strathairn); in these sessions we learn that when Jessica was six, her father was proved to be a serial killer. He then killed his wife and himself. Jessica has kept a photo of his dead body.
She and Mike are assigned to investigate the brutal beating murder of a corpse found floating in San Francisco bay. We learn, but Mike doesn’t, that this guy was one of Jessica’s lovers. And so is the next body, identically mutilated, also found in the bay. What’s the link? Or is Jessica herself the killer? We see her training in martial arts in a beautiful San Francisco park, and know she might be able to lick these guys. But it’s not credible that, if she did, she wouldn’t have had some kind of wounds.

So there’s the setup. Which Kaufman blows almost immediately: we see Jessica alone at home, downing a drink (she drinks way too much, and knows it), then immediately passing out. When she awakes, there’s been another murder. These scenes are shot in almost exactly the same way each time, which produces laughter, not suspense.

But then, there isn’t any suspense. Sarah Thorp is clearly unaware of how to plot a mystery. There needs to be several possible suspects, not just three (one of whom we immediately discount). It’s almost as if she doesn’t care if we realize early on who’s behind it all—but without that, “Twisted” plummets into the familiar and the routine.

Ashley Judd has played similar characters before, and with her expressive face and compact, strong-looking body, she’s ideal casting for this role. But she very much needs to vary the parts she plays, to get back to good roles like she had in “Ruby in Paradise.” Here, depth, or something, is indicated by, after a night of vigorous sex, her returning to her apartment and hugging a teddy bear.

Andy Garcia is especially good here, relaxed, charming and attractive. He evades the sullenness that sometimes mars his performances, and is instead the ideal cop hero.
Samuel L. Jackson is crisp and professional as the police commissioner, completely at ease in his position of power. But there’s nothing much more to the role. Even an actor as good as Jackson needs to have something in the script to work with, and he’s given damned little.

Kaufman makes good use of the San Francisco locations, usually featuring areas he didn’t visit in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” (But Veronica Cartwright, one of that film’s stars, does have an uncredited cameo here.) There are some well-staged, chilly-looking scenes of Mike and Jessica zooming around the bay in a police speedboat. There are some shadowy alleys and disreputable-looking (but lively) bars.

The cinematography by Peter Deming is dark-toned and well-composed; the score by Mark Isham is imaginative but occasionally much too emphatic. There isn’t anything particularly notable about the sound, mixed by Nelson Stoll; it’s crisp and professional, not showy.

All the ingredients were there for a good, tough suspense/murder mystery. All of them except a good story and dialog. This one is so familiar that it’s as predictable as if you had already read, even written, the script. Its very familiarity dooms it; Kaufman’s failure to rise above the script is dismaying.

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