- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 25, 2004

The Ashley Judd crime thriller has been a reliably disillusioning and hootable subgenre since 1997, when “Kiss the Girls” envisioned her as a captive beauty who had to be rescued by detective Morgan Freeman. “Eye of the Beholder,” “Double Jeopardy,” “High Crimes” (a reunion with Mr. Freeman) and now “Twisted,” a hapless mercenary detour for a prestige director, Philip Kaufman, have enlarged the library.

Something feels wrong if a year passes without a new installment of film noir chez Ashley.

“Twisted” opens with images of fog banks cradling the bridges of San Francisco. Unfortunately, morbid undercurrents seem to be jeopardizing the police department. Miss Judd is implicated as Jessica Shepard, the newest inspector in the homicide division. For starters, we watch her disarm a suspect who has her at knifepoint somewhere in the warehouse district. Having gained the advantage, Jessica also kicks him in the face, a gratuitous chastisement that leaves her vulnerable to brutality charges from the assailant’s attorney, who turns out to be a former colleague and lover.

There’s a lot of compromising familiarity on Jessica’s resume. Sort of a queen of the one-night stands, she habitually prowls bars and ends up in fleeting trysts. The homicide cases that await her — and new partner Mike Delmarco, light duty for Andy Garcia — are so compromising that the plot would be far better suited to murder farce. Four straight victims, marked in distinctive ways, particularly by a cigarette burn in the hand, prove to be Jessica’s erstwhile bed partners.

Privately, the heroine fears that some mental imbalance has her in its grip, since she passes out every evening after pouring a glass of wine from the same suspicious bottle of cabernet sauvignon. Well, suspicious to us. Not necessarily to woozy Jessica. Her confusion on this score contradicts her privileged position as teacher’s pet with police commissioner John Mills, played by Samuel L. Jackson.

He encourages her to show off superior powers of observation in an early tavern interlude. That’s the last time she appears to have something on the ball professionally.

Mills is biased, of course, since he is also Jessica’s foster dad and mentor.

He raised her after her own father, also a cop, shot his wife in a fit of jealousy and then shot himself. She often consults a box of souvenirs that include not only her favorite dollies but also a police photo of the late Officer Shepard bleeding from a self-inflicted head wound.

Since it’s difficult to believe that the mind of this heroine might be twisted enough to frame herself, the fiendishness needs to originate in another character. Disregarding the prospects who are too peripheral to be legitimate, the feasible suspect list can be reduced to four: Mr. Jackson, who perhaps loves not wisely but too well; Mr. Garcia, who makes a habit of tailing Jessica while she pub-crawls; police shrink Melvin Frank, played by David Strathairn, whose kindly facade might conceal sinister tendencies; and an inscrutable neighbor, an elderly Asian woman who glares silently across an alley into Jessica’s kitchen window, then promptly turns out the light when detected.

The material is far too tacky and expedient to be envisioned as anything but an exploitable payday by sophisticated filmmakers. Miss Judd gets a sobbing line that summarizes the theme admirably: “Everyone who kisses me ends up dead.”

Everyone who signs on for a new Ashley Judd thriller seems to be condemned to serial absurdity.

*1/2

TITLE: “Twisted”

RATING: R (Occasional profanity, graphic violence and sexual candor, including brief simulations of intercourse)

CREDITS: Directed by Philip Kaufman. Written by Sarah Thorp. Cinematography by Peter Deming.

RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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