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Every couple of years Ashley Judd headlines some kind of thriller that involves murder of some sort. Continuing that trend in 2004 is her latest effort, Twisted. Opening the same weekend as The Passion of the Christ, it’s easy to say that this flick didn’t have a chance in hell to make money, which is okay, because this little murder mystery is nothing more than a hack attempt at film noir homage. Set in modern day San Francisco, this “who done it” switches the gender roles and barriers of the typical thriller, and reeks of the “empowering woman who can kick butt and still be girly” thing that Judd has done a thousands times now. Occasionally the film is interesting, and it succeeds where She Wolf of London fails, but it still is just a mediocre thinking person’s cop movie.

Jessica Shepard (Ashley Judd) is an up and coming cop in the San Francisco Police Department, complete with a new found promotion to homicide inspector. Her troubled past, raging alcoholism, and barfly lifestyle catches up with her as her first murder case puts her on the hunt of a serial killer targeting her old one night stands. Along with her partner, Inspector Mike Delmarco (Andy Garcia), Jessica uncovers clues that puts herself in the spotlight as the prime suspect. Finding solace in her therapist (David Stratharin) and the Police Commissioner who raised her (Samuel L. Jackson), Jessica must come to grips with her stark reality: she’s a good cop, but is she an even better killer?

As before, Judd does the whole strong woman thing she’s done in similar crime thrillers like Double Jeopardy and High Crimes. At first it’s great to watch, but plot repitition overkill starts to get in the way of what could be a good movie. Andy Garcia is slowly losing his sex appeal with each pound he gains with age. He has to be pushing 220, easy, but his charisma is still there. He hasn’t lost that since his days of being Don Vincent Corleone. Rounding out the cast is Samuel L. Jackson. Immediately it is insinuated that he will not use the phrase “motherf**ker” because of his glasses and wig. Not like that’s a bad thing or anything, Jackson does what he does best when he’s toned down in a role like this. The cast basically does their best doing whatever trademark thing they usually do.

Director Philip Kaufman (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) doesn’t make movies as often as he did in the late 60's and 70's, and it shows. His last effort, Quills, got more press for its acting than its direction. In Twisted, he tries too hard to make it have a pseudo film noir-feel. Shadows, darkness, and fog engulf the entire movie to create a sincere mood. Sometimes it works, but other times it’s just too much atmosphere.

Twisted could have been a lot better. It had a good story and a great cast, but it doesn’t feel as if anyone was into this. It’s more like they were contracted to do this so they just phoned it in. Paramount dumped it in theatres against Mel Gibson’s opus for good reason. They made the film, so they just put it out for the sake of putting it out. If it were any good they would’ve sat on it and released it at a more appropriate time so it would get attention. Bare in mind, this is not a bad movie - it’s just ninety-six minutes of wasted potential. I expected a lot more from everyone involved with this. They just didn’t bring it.

My verdict: Skip it folks. Don’t spend your money on this thing, not even the five-dollar rental fee. Just go on with your life and eventually it’ll play round the clock some weekend on TNT. At least then it’ll be free. The movie may be a disappointment, but somehow the DVD isn’t. There are tons of features here to play with. If only the movie was good. There are three rather long featurettes that delve into the psychology and “accuracy” of the movie, deleted scenes (with commentary), and a feature length commentary from director Philip Kaufman.

The first featurette up is “Creating a ‘Twisted’ Web of Intrigue”, basically various shots from the flick compiled with cast interviews and behind the scenes stuff as the cast and crew talk about the interesting concept behind the movie. The concept is indeed interesting, so this featurette is not a throwaway. The problem is everyone is so positive about how the film itself turned out. Second comes “The Inspectors: Clues to Crimes”, which is built like the first featurette, only this time including interviews with the technical advisors to Twisted, all of which are or were San Francisco police officers. The technical advisors, cast, and director all talk about how the cop stuff is accurate. “That’s the way it really is done blah blah blah.” Thirdly is “San Francisco: Scene of the Crime”, focusing on everyone talking about how the city added to the film’s look and style while adding an environment to host Kaufman’s film noir fetish. Honestly, the film could’ve been shot anywhere with a body of water near it, still would have been the same. There isn’t even a gratuitous shot of Alcatraz, at least none that made the final cut.

The deleted scenes could have ALL been but back in. None of them taint the film or make it drag. All of them are well done and should probably not have been cut. The commentary with the deleted scenes has Kaufman insisting that they were all cut in order to tighten the running time. The movie is an hour and a half long - ten minutes more won’t kill you. Then again maybe he saw the crap he was making and tried to get it over with as fast as possible. That I’d understand.

I’ve said it time and time again, I hate it when commentaries become love fests where people just kiss ass throughout the movie. Kaufman kisses ass, but not of any of the cast, crew, or any other person in the industry. He spends the entire time confessing his “Frisco” love. When he’s not doing that, he’s commentating. “This is when we realize she may have a drinking problem”, “She just blacked out, is she the killer?” and so on. Movies aren’t sports events. No doubt whoever watches the commentary has seen the movie at least once already - we don’t need it spelled out for us. And I swear to God, if he could’ve used the title to more obviously explain characters, motives, the plot, or any other damn thing having to do with this flick, I would be forced to shove Q-Tips covered in sulfuric acid in my pee hole to stop the pain. The movie is called Twisted, I get it.

Some of the extras are good, some are bad, but at least they’re there. If the movie was twice as good, the features would have been more fun to watch. Quality is better than quantity. The only real thing on the disc I really, really like was that it had a trailer for The Reckoning on it. Skip this flick and rent that one instead - sure there’s no features... but the movie is a lot more worth watching then having to sit through Twisted.