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Twisted (February 26/04)

Twisted is so awful that it's hard to imagine even director Philip Kaufman watching it without rolling his eyes a few times. It's that rare film that doesn't work on any level, from the acting to the cinematography to the story, and makes one wonder exactly what screenwriter Sarah Thorpe was thinking when she wrote it.

Ashley Judd stars as Jessica Shepard, a grizzled detective (!) who spends her off hours drinking heavily and sleeping with strangers. Her latest case involves the murder of a man she previously had sex with, a coincidence that's not lost on her superiors. Jessica works with her new partner, Mike (Andy Garcia), towards solving the crime - though even he becomes suspicious after a second man is killed (who also was intimate with Jessica).

Right from the opening moments of Twisted, it's clear that there's a certain degree of ineptness at work here. The film kicks off with Jessica being held at knife point by a perp (played by Leland Orser) on a set that looks like a set, exacerbated by a fog machine that apparently went awry. It's absolutely the wrong note with which to start the story, and asking us to accept Ashley Judd as a cop with violent tendencies is absurd (it's the sort of thing an audience needs to be eased into, not slapped across the face with in the first scene).

Director of photography Peter Deming gives the movie a visually unpleasant feel - virtually every location in the film is grimy and dark - and though this kind of thing can work (ie Se7en), Deming clearly doesn't have the same kind of ability as Darius Khondji (Se7en's cinematographer). His approach seems to consist of shooting everything through a filter of some sort, which translates into a distinctly hazy atmosphere that's incredibly distracting.

If you're willing to look past such things, though, one must still contend with Thorpe's oddly incompetent script. Simplistic, stereotypical characters populate this story (there's a smarmy detective who doesn't trust Jessica that's apparently been included just so he can respect her later) and their behavior always feels dictated by the labored machinations of the script. Samuel L. Jackson's character is especially guilty of this; his presence is inexplicable for the majority of the film's running time, popping up to dispense useless bits of advice.

The one saving grace might've been the performances, but no dice there. Judd just isn't convincing as an ill-tempered and crabby cop, though she does try her darndest. Even the usually reliable Garcia and Jackson seem to be sleep-walking through their roles. The only stand-out is David Strathairn as a psychiatrist treating Judd's character, despite the fact that his character seems to exist for the sole purpose of giving the audience someone else to suspect.

Twisted is certainly an early candidate for worst movie of the year, made all-the-more disappointing by the number of genuinely talented folks in front of and behind the camera. It's a complete misfire on all accounts, one that's so bad it's virtually impossible to imagine anyone enjoying it (and that goes for those who made it, as well).

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