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Recently promoted San Francisco police inspector Jessica Shepard (Ashley Judd) is searching for a serial killer. A heavy drinker who is prone to blackouts and likes to pick up strangers for casual sexual encounters, Shepard is shocked to discover that men she has recently slept with are the victims. With her new partner Mike Delmarco (Andy Garcia) behaving suspiciously and police commissioner John Mills (Samuel L. Jackson) under pressure to take her off the case, Jessica becomes her own prime suspect. With evidence mounting against her, Jessica begins to believe that she is indeed the killer.

Review by Richard Kuipers:
The longer it progresses the more obvious it becomes that there's only two ways for Twisted to resolve itself. The first option is to reveal that yes, indeed, hard-drinking, sexually adventurous San Francisco police inspector Jessica Shepard (Ashley Judd) has killed all the men she's recently had rough sex with. It's not the 80's and this is not Cruising (1983) (though it might have been much more effective had it been), so the chances of Jessica fessin' up to messin' up her one-night stands are remote.

The second option is for a climactic scene in which the chief suspects are gathered in a remote location where one of them will make a ludicrous series of statements that explains why he/she had to bash the victims to death and leave a signature cigarette burn on each of their hands - as all good serial killers do, of course.

That's exactly what happens in the finale of a police procedural that tries so hard to avoid clichés it has nowhere to end but in the realms of the ridiculous. The climax is absurd but before it arrives there's a reasonable level of mystery and character study to pass the time.

With short cropped hair and a "don't mess with me" attitude, Ashley Judd cuts an interesting figure as the freshly promoted cop who knows how to handle the sarcastic comments of skeptical macho detectives at her new precinct. More involving than the mechanical repetition of scenes in which Jessica blacks out and wakes up next morning to a 'phone call about the latest murder are those exploring her psycho-sexual problems. Conversations with with police shrink Dr Melvin Frank (the namesake of the director of Buona Sera Mrs Campbell and A Touch Of Class; played here by David Strathairn) shed some interesting light on her troubled character and scenes in which Jessica trawls through honky tonk bars looking for rough sex partners build an impressive atmosphere of erotic danger.

Unfortunately these elements are undermined by thoroughly conventional plot mechanics that grind their way to solving the case and relieving Jessica of her emotional baggage in a couple of sledgehammer moves at the finale. Director Philip Kaufman, who has delved into erotic territory in The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1987) and Henry and June (1990), gives this a certain style and mystery on the surface but what might have been an intriguing cop thriller riff on Looking For Mr Goodbar (1978) ends up as just another piece of serial killer blandness.

At least the performances are solid, with Andy Garcia making the most of it as Jessica's potentially dangerous partner Delmarco and Samuel L. Jackson doing his authority figure routine crisply and proficiently as the police commissioner who raised Jessica after her father (and his ex-partner, naturally) went on a killing spree. Nicely filmed in a foggy San Francisco and with just enough red herrings to maintain interest, Twisted is easy enough to watch as long as you don't look too closely at the clunky gears driving it.

The DVD contains a making of feature plus a commentary by director Brian Robbins and screenplay writer Mark Schwahn.

Published September 16, 2004

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CAST: Ashley Judd, Samuel L. Jackson, Andy Garcia, David Strathairn, Russell Wong, Camryn Manheim, Mark Pellegrino, Titus Welliver

DIRECTOR: Philip Kaufman

SCRIPT: Sarah Thorp

RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes


SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary by director Brian Robbins & writer Mark Schwahn; making 'The Perfect Score'; trailer


DVD RELEASE: September 16, 2004

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