In an almost continuous string of formulaic Hollywood crime thrillers comes the latest and another dull entry into the genre--Paramount Picture's "Twisted". As the title so openly implies, there are "surprising" twists written into the story but as it tries to cater to the lowest common denominator, any savvy moviegoer can probably figure out the plot in a heartbeat. In one of the making-of documentaries included on this DVD, producer Arnold Kopelson mentioned that he receives at least fifty scripts a day and found this one to stand out. After watching this movie, I wonder how much worse the other forty-nine scripts are. Try as it might, "Twisted" is never able to emerge from the doomed depths of cliché-dom.
Like the recently released "Taking Lives", "Twisted" plays in more or less the same ballpark with an independent and strong female law enforcement officer in the lead role of a psychological crime thriller. After playing countless roles as a helpless victim who bounces back to exact vengeance on her attackers ("Kiss the Girls" and "Double Jeopardy" immediately come to mind), Ashley Judd takes the next step in her evolution to becoming the next Linda Hamilton or even Sigourney Weaver. All she needs to do now is to lose her sexy girl-next-door charm, build up some bulk and forgo romantic dramas or comedies to complete the transformation. However, in "Twisted", Judd starts off strong but ends up a victim all over again. How's that for a twisted story?
Judd plays Jessica Shepard, who, at the start of the film is moving up the ranks to become an Inspector in the Homicide division of the San Francisco PD. The director tries to establish her physical and mental toughness early by putting Shepard in a precarious situation at the start of the film where she manages to arrest a creepy serial killer named Edmund Cutler (Leland Orser). This way, her competency as a cop will never be questioned, right? Wrong! Everything is great and dandy until we see a darker side of Shepard, a side that drinks like a fish and picks up anonymous men for casual sex. No logical explanation is given for her behavior except maybe--just maybe--it is genetic. Say what?
Let me try to explain the film's rationality. Shepard's background story--told in bits and pieces--goes something like this. As far as she knows, her father went cuckoo one day, killed her mother and then committed suicide. We are later alluded to the fact that her mother was sleeping around, thus leading to her murder at the hands of her own husband. So is that supposed to explain Shepard's addiction to sex? I certainly don't think it even comes remotely close. John Mills (Samuel L. Jackson), who was Shepard's father's former partner and is now the Police Commissioner, took her in after the tragedy and raised her. Mills becomes both a surrogate parent and a mentor to Shepard. Unfortunately, very little attention is paid to this relationship between Mills and Shepard.
As the only female officer in Homicide, Shepard encounters the usual bruised male egos and the cliché situation of having to prove herself in the eyes of her male colleagues. Oh sister, come on! As my wife later commented, this movie resembles a Lifetime cable channel made-for-TV movie. And she is perfectly correct. Except for the appearance of big movie stars, "Twisted" can pass off as any run-of-the-mill TV movie. Anyway, let's drudge on. Shepard's partner is Mike Delmarco (Andy Garcia) and is, not surprisingly, unlike any of the other guys in the department. Yes, here comes another cliché--the token good-guy-among-the-bad-seeds scenario. As expected, Delmarco treats her with respect and tries his best to show her the ropes. Unfortunately, the abundant clichés are not only confined to elements of the story but permeate throughout the dialogue as well. If I had a dollar for every cheesy line spoken in the movie, I'd be filthy rich.
On their first homicide case together, Shepard is shocked when she realizes that she recognizes the victim as one of her recent one-night stands. Thinking nothing more of it and brushing it off as just a horrible coincidence, Delmarco and Shepard press on with their investigation. Then a second body shows up with the same cigarette burn on the hand as the first. Not only do we have a serial killer on the loose, this victim is also one of Shepard's more recent conquests. Someone is methodically killing off Shepard's sexual partners. One by one, people that she has had slept with, begin to die. This probably means most of the straight men in San Francisco are potential victims of a jealous psycho killer!
There is however, another twist to the story. The night before each murder is discovered, Shepard inexplicably passes out at home while having a glass of wine (without any witnesses, of course). Now, if one were to black out for hours at a time after drinking some wine, one would rationally stop drinking, right? Nope, not our gal here. Bartender, another round! On a reasonable level, won't one also find the situation medically alarming? As the bodies start piling up, Shepard becomes more and more distraught and unfocused. For all the bravado and confidence that Shepard exudes at the start of the movie, she is suddenly a victim again, exhibiting signs of a mental breakdown, as the possibility exists that she could somehow be connected to the murders. Well, you can now throw the astute and competent detective scenario straight out the window.
In "Twisted", the sense of paranoia is very strong. Every person you see can be a suspect, even Shepard herself. That is a noble goal for any film, but when you realize that the movie's sole intention is to throw the audience off by leaving false clues, then it becomes easy to eliminate who is NOT the killer. If it is too obvious, then your suspicion should probably point to someone else. You can take your pick of suspects from a variety of choices: from Shepard's unstable ex-boyfriend, Jimmy (Mark Pellegrino) to another ex-boyfriend Ray Porter (D.W. Moffet) who is also a slimy lawyer and even her partner Delmarco, who has a bad stalking habit. Even the pleasant CSI-like lab technician, played by "The Practice"'s Camryn Manheim acts sneaky enough to be considered a suspect in the crimes. Heck, if Shepard had a pet, it would be a suspect too!
With a poor script, the talented line-up of actors in this movie is saddled with only delivering forgettable lines that don't require much emoting. It is a real waste to have both Samuel L. Jackson and Andy Garcia in a movie and not make full use of their acting talents. As for Ashley Judd, she has competently demonstrated her talent for playing a victim in the past. Unfortunately, her role in "Twisted", although it starts out refreshingly different, predictably ends with more of the usual role her fans are most familiar with. Someone obviously thinks that Judd is just too pretty to play a tough and intelligent cop and to go with what had worked in the past and that is to cast her as a victim who comes back from adversity. Now, how twisted is that?
Presented in anamorphic video measuring in at its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, "Twisted" delivers strong colors and natural-looking skin tones. There is a large amount of night scenes and the deep and accurate black levels come in handy. Subtitle options include English and Spanish.
In the audio section, you have a choice of English language Dolby Digital 5.1 or Dolby Surround 2.0. The audio track keeps the front speaker channels busy with only the occasional surround and subwoofer usage. Dialogue is accurate and clear without any distortion. The only other audio option is a French language Dolby Digital 5.1 track.
Billed as a "Special Collector's Edition", this DVD contains a decent amount of extras for a single disc release. First is an audio commentary by director Philip Kaufman, whose monotonous delivery throughout the commentary will put anyone to sleep. However, if you can keep awake, Kaufman does serve up some good background information and motivations about the film and talks almost continuously.
Then there are three mildly interesting featurettes. First up is "Creating A Twisted Web of Intrigue", which runs for approximately 11 minutes. Here you will find interviews with Kaufman, Judd, Kopelson, Garcia, Jackson and the other cast members. They all talk about how the many psychological aspects of the film are pieced together and it is punctuated with some of behind-the-scenes shots and also scenes from the movie.
In the next documentary titled "The Inspectors: Clues to the Crime" (10 minutes), interviews are conducted with a real-life female SFPD inspector about the history of women in the force and her direct involvement with the film as a consultant in trying to keep the show rooted in realism. Also interviewed is an SFPD director of police psychology who is also a technical advisor for the film.
The third and final feature is "San Francisco: Scene of the Crime" and it runs for seven minutes. As the title suggests, this short documentary tries to show how the city of San Francisco is used in the movie. Kaufman and some of the cast talk about the lure of the city and how they used many of the city's neighborhood landmarks in the film.
Finally, in "Cutting Room Floor", you get to explore ten extended/deleted scenes with optional commentary by Kaufman. Some of them are quite interesting to watch when you hear Kaufman's explanation of why that particular scene was removed.
If you like your thrillers fluffy and easy to navigate, then "Twisted" is not really a bad film. It certainly delivers a made-for-TV movie experience. For all others who enjoy nail-biting suspense and the thrill of having your mind messed with, take my word for it and avoid this movie at all costs. Predictable and cliché-driven, "Twisted" is a movie that should have never been made.