Twisted

(2004)  1/2 R
97 min. Paramount Pictures. Director: Philip Kaufman. Cast: Ashley Judd, Andy Garcia, Samuel L. Jackson, David Strathairn, Russell Wong.

Critics hate little more than when bad movies happen to good people. But unless the moguls at Paramount Pictures had incriminating photos of Philip Kaufman--director of The Right Stuff and The Unbearable Lightness of Being, among others--he deserves no sympathy for agreeing to helm Sarah Thorpe's trashy, dull-witted script. Kaufman must have been lured by a series of consolation prizes: DP Peter Deming (Mulholland Drive), composer Mark Isham, and a cast including Ashley Judd, Andy Garcia, Samuel L. Jackson, David Strathairn, and Camryn Manheim. Kaufman was also allowed the apparent luxury of shooting in hometown San Francisco, but why bother if you have to shoot crap, even moody, foggy crap with lots of sea lions?

Judd plays newly promoted police detective Jessica Shepard. As she starts work at her new precinct, Jessica inconveniently starts blacking out nightly. Worse, she must groggily report each morning to crime scenes littered with dead ex-lovers ("Everyone who kisses me turns up dead!" she moans). Of course, Jessica is a prime suspect, to her police psychiatrist (Strathairn), her co-workers (mentor Jackson and new partner Garcia), and herself. A sign in the police station announces, "OUR DAY BEGINS WHEN YOURS ENDS," Kaufman's way of amusing himself at this predictable mystery in the shape of a werewolf yarn.

Judd's character has anger issues and daddy issues (daddy was angry), but the multiplicity of suspects makes clear that this is one of those "everyone's a suspect" movies at which you might as well throw a dart at the screen to figure out whodunnit, for all the work that went into devising the bafflingly implausible motive. Though the credits list a specialist in criminal behavior, I'll eat my hat if any of these suspects fits the profile of a psychotic serial killer. All of them work in the police department, for God's sake. While I'm sure plenty of cops are corrupt or nasty or perhaps even psychotic, I'm not buying the whole serial killer thing. Besides, Hollywood's already made this implausible movie at least a half-dozen times, hasn't it?

The only element Kaufman can add, aside from the mildly amusing gross of phallic weaponry, are atmospheric shots of San Francisco locations. His use of repetitive, dreamy montages adds little, as do Thorp's half-hearted attempts at adding thematic value. Leland Orser, who seems doomed to play psychotic thugs, plays the psychotic thug Jessica apprehends in the film's opening scene. In captivity, he spits at her, "I know you have a dirty side. I know you. You're me." With dialogue this dumb, I'll take some more slo-mo seagull shots, thank you very much.

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