It's Oscar weekend, the time when studios traditionally dump some of their lesser offerings onto the marketplace, resigned to the fact that audiences will be too busy catching the nominees one last time to check out any new releases. Into this void comes Twisted, a ridiculous patchwork of cop-movie clichés soaked in post-feminist angst that offers several unintentional laughs, but is not quite bad enough to join the annals of classic bad moviemaking.

The film's genre-bound tackiness is especially surprising given that it is directed by Philip Kaufman, the helmer of such socially, politically and/or historically significant films as The Right Stuff, The Unbearable Lightness of Being and, most recently, Quills, which made the Marquis de Sade out to be some sort of transgressive hero—though it is worth noting that the villain in that film was not the priest, who was actually somewhat sympathetic, but the dogmatic man of science.

Andy Garcia, Samuel L. Jackson, Ashley Judd

Andy Garcia, Samuel L. Jackson, Ashley Judd

At first, it seems that Twisted, which begins with cloudy shots of the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco skyline obscured by fog, might be aiming for something similarly artsy. But then the camera comes to rest on Ashley Judd, and the knife that a man has pressed against her throat. The man gropes her, then touches something he hadn't expected—she's carrying a gun! That's right, Judd is no mere passive victim—she's a cop! And with that revelation out of the way, she proceeds to knock the guy to the ground, call for back-up, and then kick him in the face just for good measure. You go, girl!

From then on, the film never even tries to be more than a routine thriller informed by amateurish psychology. The next scene takes us to a bar where the Judd character, Jessica Shepard, is dancing with her fellow officers to James Brown's "Sex Machine." But lest we think her experience with the rapist didn't make her more timid about her own sexuality, it turns out Jessica might be a damaged soul after all.

Camryn Manheim, Ashley Judd, Andy Garcia

Camryn Manheim, Ashley Judd, Andy Garcia

On her way home, she stops in at yet another bar and picks up a total stranger, going back to his apartment for some quick, rough sex. And when Jessica does go home, she rifles through her dolls and her photos of the parents who died when she was just a child. As if the film had not already overstated the fact that Jessica is grappling with some sort of lost innocence, we are later told that her father killed her mother when he discovered the latter's infidelities. And so, like the protagonist in the Scream movies, Jessica lives with the guilt-ridden fear that she may become like her adulterous mother—and in fact, except for the part about getting married and killed, she pretty much already has.

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There is certainly potential in such a premise, to explore how the sins of the parents are visited on their children and so on. But Twisted, written by Sarah Thorp, is utterly lacking in believability, and quickly turns toward caricature. Jessica, newly promoted to inspector, is given a murder case that quickly becomes a serial-killer case, and all the victims turn out to be her former boyfriends or one-night stands. Even some of the lawyers or fellow police officers she meets turn out to be ex-lovers. Despite being a prime suspect herself, Jessica stays on the case, even though it means walking into bars and asking if the victim was ever seen leaving with anyone—apart from her, that is.

Ashley Judd and Leland Orser

Ashley Judd and Leland Orser

The film even tries to suggest that Jessica herself might be committing these murders. Every night, she seemingly gets drunk and passes out. And yes, this is the sort of movie that asks us to consider that she might be tracking down these men, some of whom would be rather difficult to find, and killing them methodically, covering her tracks every step of the way, and then going back home to sleep in the exact same position—all while she blacked out. But the film throws other suspects our way, too, including Jessica's new partner, Mike Delmarco (Andy Garcia, doing a lot of shouting), and her adoptive father, John Mills (Samuel L. Jackson, who once again seems to be in it just for the paycheck). And on the off-chance that some people have never seen a cop movie before, I won't mention the particular cliché that gives the secret away in the film's first, oh, 20 minutes.

Add to this some overcooked dialogue, a number of plot threads that go nowhere (whose blood was on the second victim, anyway?), some wildly implausible story devices (Jessica's cell phone can pick up other people's voices from many feet away, even outdoors, and it's so loud that those people can hear who she's talking to, too), and a dearth of remotely likable characters, and Twisted is a crime story that just doesn't pay.

Talk About It

Discussion starters
  1. Do you think it's true, as some characters speculate, that we all have it in ourselves to be killers and other kinds of violent criminals? If so, then what's stopping most of us? If not, then why do you think some people become those things?

  2. At one point, Jessica says, "I was raised to be a good person, but I was born to bad people." What sort of influence do you think parents have over their children? Which do you think is more important, nature or nurture? Why?

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  1. Do you think the film is critical of Jessica's sexual habits? Do you think she is responsible in any way for the deaths of her lovers? Is it possible to address someone's unhealthy behavior without being judgmental, the way that the male detectives judge Jessica? If so, how?

The Family Corner

For parents to consider

The film is rated R for violence, language and sexuality. The characters frequently use four-letter words. The onscreen violence is fairly tame, but we do see a few very bloody dead bodies, as well as a few partly rotted corpses. There are several sexually suggestive scenes, but very little actual nudity—these scenes focus more on people's faces than on other body parts.

What Other Critics Are Saying
compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet
from Film Forum, 03/04/04

Twisted—a not-so thrilling thriller

In Twisted, actress Ashley Judd plays an investigator who discovers that she might be her own prime suspect.

Moviegoers may see a parallel between this premise and Judd's career. This immensely talented actress seems to be spoiling her reputation by choosing one lousy thriller after another. The film is also a mark against the once-formidable director Phillip Kaufman, who made The Right Stuff, The Unbearable Lightness of Being and co-wrote Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Twisted is a rotten-tomato target for critics this week. It is reportedly overrun with clichés, unintentionally funny dialogue, and less-than-memorable performances by Samuel L. Jackson and Andy Garcia.

"The film never even tries to be more than a routine thriller informed by amateurish psychology," says Peter T. Chattaway (Christianity Today Movies). He goes on to lament "some overcooked dialogue, a number of plot threads that go nowhere … some wildly implausible story devices … and a dearth of remotely likable characters."

Bob Smithouser (Plugged In) says, "Twisted is one of those murder mysteries where any viewer vaguely familiar with the genre will finger the killer in the first 10 minutes. [The movie is] a sleazy tease with plot holes, plausibility problems and a tired payoff that leaves the audience feeling as if they'd been beaten about the head."

Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) says, "As a murder mystery, Twisted could have used a few more twists. As it stands, we can see the ending coming from a few victims away." He adds that Garcia and Jackson seem to be "going through the motions in this film." He concludes that the film's worst flaw is "the awkwardness of the script. It is so [formulaic] that all tension and mystery are nonexistent."

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Annabelle Robertson (Crosswalk) lists several of the script's absurdities. "Even though all this happened around 1970, we're supposed to believe that a single black man with no children was allowed to adopt a young white girl that he was not related to. We're also supposed to accept that the San Francisco Police Department is full of psychotics, murderers and sex-addicts."

David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) says, "Twisted desperately tries to be sexy but can't generate enough inertia to break free of the gravitational pull of its hackneyed script. It is pulp without pop or pizzazz."

Tom Snyder (Movieguide) says it "contains a perverted storyline, with a troubled heroine whose sexual promiscuity is eventually validated when the true killer's motive is finally revealed."

Our Rating
1½ Stars - Weak
Average Rating
(not rated yet)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
R (for violence, language and sexuality)
Directed By
Philip Kaufman
Run Time
1 hour 37 minutes
Ashley Judd, Samuel L. Jackson, Andy Garcia
Theatre Release
February 27, 2004 by Paramount Pictures
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