Dan Lybarger, 5 March 2004
Director Philip Kaufman has made
a lot of entertainingly gutsy films like The Great Northfield
Minnesota Raid, The White Dawn, The Right Stuff,
The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Quills. In all
of these flicks, he's managed to credit viewers with having brains
and to subvert and rework genres so the films are fresh and
So what's he doing behind the helm
Apparently, even he needs to eat
once in a while.
The latest thriller starring Ashley
Judd is so tepidly by the book that it winds up becoming an
unintentional parody. Judd plays the type of female cop who seems to
exist only on screen. Jessica Shepard can clobber perps easily
(maybe excessively), but she has some personal issues that end her
upwardly mobile career.
As the film progresses, we learn
that she has apparently slept with half the male population of San
Francisco and frequently drinks her way into unconsciousness. How
she manages to keep up a well-toned bod with such a lethal regimen
is never fully answered.
The first real challenge she
encounters once she becomes a homicide inspector is a serial killer
whose crimes hit a little too close to home for Shepard. All of them
are former lovers and have the kind of beatings that she uses to
Because of her frequent lost
weekends and her family history (it seems Dad was a serial killer),
Jessica can't rule herself out as a suspect. Even she has doubts
about her innocence.
There's one clue that isn't
terribly incriminating, though. All the victims have cigarette burns
on their hands. Every San Franciscan in Twisted chain-smokes,
so it's not only a red herring but also a sign that Kaufman isn't
Screenwriter Sarah Thorp (See
Jane Run) comes up with a workable setup, but Kaufman and
the cast seem to think that making a mainstream thriller requires
indifferent craftsmanship and the assumption that each viewer has
recently been lobotomized. A nasty misogynistic tone doesn't help
(can't Shepard be merely a competent professional instead of a
Freudian test case?).
It's not enough for Shepard to
merely drop her car keys. She has to defy the laws of physics and
somehow release them in a way that makes them land out of reach
under the vehicle. Not only does this enable a dark figure to easily
creep up on her, it also gives her an opportunity to circumnavigate
her hand through a nest of rats.
The overkill of having both the
looming figure and those playful rodents generates more giggles than
chills. If that weren't enough to kill the tension of the scene,
Mark Isham's score (which seems more transposed than composed)
blares loudly as if it were advertising the attempted suspense. By
the time the killer's identity is revealed, viewers will either have
guessed it or stopped caring.
Both Andy Garcia as Shepard's
partner and Samuel L. Jackson as her mentor seem to be going through
the motions until more interesting gigs come along. Judd doesn't
seem that lucky. She's pretty much calcified her career with flicks
like this one.
Kaufman's personal touch is
missing, as if he knew this thing wouldn't look good on a résumé.
The only signs that any entity other than computer was behind this
thing are a few scenes of mildly kinky groping (he did direct
Henry and June) and a locale in Kaufman's hometown.
On second thought, maybe there's
something symbolic about the sea lions that work their way into the
ending of the film. We may never know what is being symbolized, but
it ends the film on a funnier note than most of the alleged comedies
I've seen this year.