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It's not that there's anything wrong with button-cute Ashley Judd playing a San Francisco homicide detective who's got scruffy-short hair, drinks whiskey shots like a Rat Packer, and likes to have kinky, rough sex with strange men she picks up in bars. It's just that if she's gonna butch up, she could at least titillate the imagination in a movie that's, er… good. In Philip Kaufman's Twisted (2004), Judd plays Jessica Shepard, an SFPD cop who's just been promoted to Homicide, thanks in part to her mentor, Commissioner John Mills (Samuel L. Jackson) — a man who not only watches over her law-enforcement career but also raised her as a foster father following the violent death of her parents when she was just six. However, Jessica's promotion comes with some questions. Just recently, she violated a perp after cuffing him, forcing her into analysis with the departmental shrink (David Strathairn). She also doesn't match up well with her senior partner in Homicide, no-nonsense Mike Delmarco (Andy Garcia). And it turns out that the first two bodies that the SFPD pull out of the bay during her watch are men she's slept with in just the previous few weeks. Both men also bear a serial killer's signature — a cigarette burn on the hand — which forces Jessica to wonder if, during her boozing-til-blackout binges, she's actually the murderer and has no memory of her deadly rages. Of course, it's not giving anything away to say that Jessica isn't a killer at all — by the time the credits for Twisted roll, she's exonerated in a manner we all could presume not long after the first clues cropped up. But since, in a genre exercise of this sort, Jessica simply can't be the killer, watching the movie is less like matinee escapism and a bit more like playing Clue: Will it be the mentor, Sam Jackson, on the wharf with the lit cigarette? Or the new partner, Andy Garcia, in a dark alley with a Yawara? Could psychiatrist David Strathairn be the culprit, in the SoMa bars with a vial of roofies? How about the stalkerish ex-boyfriend (Mark Pellegrino)? Or why not the clever coroner (Camryn Manheim)? Or hey, how about a high-concept twist? What if the whole thing is actually taking place in one of Jessica's fever-dreams, and she's actually a serial killer in cryo-freeze on a space-bound penitentiary headed for the Spice Mines of Kessel in 2467? Unfortunately (or perhaps not), those looking for a big twist along the lines of Identity (2003) will be sorely disappointed here — your humble reviewer is not particularly adept at guessing surprise endings, and even his first theory panned out with startling accuracy. Which, of course, makes Twisted not very thrilling at all. One could hope for good performances, at least as a consolation prize, but there's not much to recommend in this regard either, save for the fact that Ashley Judd — who has proved herself a competent actress in such films as Michael Mann's Heat (1995) — plays out her anger-management issues with such extraordinarily bad ferocity that the mind simply flickers through a Rolodex of movie-memories and repeatedly settles upon Elizabeth Berkley's weird sex and spastic fits in Showgirls (1996). And for that, one can't help but wish that Ms. Berkley would have emerged from her since-obscure filmography to play Nomi: Homicide Investigator in this offering. Of course, veterans like Sam Jackson, Andy Garcia, and David Strathairn handle their parts with complete professionalism, never once asked to test the outer limits of their notable talents — which means one can only look at the résumé of director Philip Kaufman (The Right Stuff, Henry and June, The Unbearable Lightness of Being) and wonder just what on earth led him to such a forgettable midlist release as this. Paramount's DVD release of Twisted features a solid anamorphic transfer (1.851) with Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 Surround audio. Supplements include a commentary from director Kaufman, the featurettes "Creating a Twisted Web of Intrigue" (11 min.), "The Inspectors: Clues to the Crime" (10 min.), and "San Francisco: Scene of the Crime" (7 min.), 10 deleted and extended scenes with director's commentary, and previews for Paramount titles. Keep-case.

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