February 27th, 2004
The new serial killer/sex thriller “Twisted” recalls a day when Joe Eszterhas ruled the screenplay world. With its convoluted plotting, awful performances, and puzzler ending, “Twisted” had a clear shot at becoming a treasured guilty pleasure, but instead it’s just an old-fashioned bad time at the movies.
Jessica Shepard (Ashley Judd) is a San Francisco street cop who has just been promoted to detective. Her first case involves tracking a serial killer who has a peculiar choice of victim: ex-lovers involved with Jessica’s promiscuous and sexually violent lifestyle. Horrified, Jessica attempts to keep this information away from her mentor (Samuel L. Jackson) and her partner (Andy Garcia), as she tries to put the pieces together. But plagued by blackouts and her own disagreeable demeanor, Jessica begins suspect herself as the killer when the clues start pointing to her.
“Twisted” is a psychosexual thriller along the lines of the Joe Eszterhas screenplays that littered the 1990s film landscape (“Basic Instinct,” “Showgirls”). And much like those films, it’s an overheated, needlessly complex motion picture that eventually just gives up on itself. It doesn’t even cross over into shameful guilty pleasure country, like Eszterhas’s “Sliver” or “Jade.” “Twisted” is just a cleanly cut, old-fashioned bad movie.
Written by freshman Sarah Thorpe, “Twisted” opens with the sights and smells of a decent cop thriller, complete with a delicious mean streak trait that is shared by all the characters. The only real hero is Jessica, and she’s a law-bending, one-night-stand-loving officer of the people, who is also prone to excessive drinking and rough sex. You just don’t see that type of behavior from a lead character anymore. The director is Philip Kaufman, a filmmaker who knows a thing or two about kinky corners of sexuality (“Henry and June, “Quills”), as well as excessive film quality (“The Right Stuff”), and he seems a perfect choice to infuse “Twisted” with a creepy vibe of impending doom in both the homicide sense and in the sheets.
However, “Twisted” dies at almost the very moment it begins. Logic is a big tripwire, and the script sidesteps a lot of problems by having characters just disappear for no reason, or in Jessica’s case, simply blackout. The ending is also a jumble, containing a complete lack of sense, and it feels like the product of a screenwriter who was already two weeks late on delivering a draft and needed something quick. The entire film is poorly paced and awkwardly constructed, leaving little interest in the thriller proceedings that pop up occasionally to remind the audience what they came for.
Ashley Judd is another blunder of the film. I’ve liked Judd in the past, especially in her trademark thriller roles (“Double Jeopardy,” “High Crimes”), but she falters massively trying to bring Jessica to life. The appeal of the textured character is evident, but Judd can’t quite get a grip on the psychological complexity of the role, relying on a hard-ass approach that her elfish features betray. As Jessica’s world continues to dissolve and suspicions arise, Judd just gets worse, peaking with one scene that asks this hardened cop to open the floodgates of tears, unexpectedly eliciting big laughs in the process.
My rating: D-