THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


I’ve noticed a somewhat disturbing trend recently. Some very good, ambitious, artistic directors are cranking out formulaic Hollywood thrillers. Last year, Mike Figgis (Leaving Las Vegas) gave us Cold Creek Manor, Lawrence Kasdan (The Big Chill) unleashed Dreamcatcher, and John Singleton (Boyz N the Hood) made 2 Fast 2 Furious. Now Phillip Kaufman, whose works include The Right Stuff, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and Quills, has brought us Twisted, yet another psychosexual thriller along the lines of Sliver or Basic Instinct (albeit much tamer than either of those). Why do so many good directors want to take hack work?

Ashley Judd stars as Jessica Shepard, a San Francisco cop just promoted to the homicide division. Her new boss is Mike Delmarco (Andy Garcia), and he has a lot of faith in her capabilities. So does her mentor John Mills (Samuel L. Jackson). In fact, Mills raised Jessica since she was a child. We learn that her father (Mills’s former partner) went nuts and killed her mother and then himself. Cops in these movies always seem to have some dark incident in their pasts.

Jessica has what you would politely refer to as “issues.” One of her favorite hobbies is getting drunk, picking up a stranger in a bar, and having sex with him. Of course, the film goes to great lengths to get us to realize that she is a Good Person, lest we – heaven forbid – dislike her or anything. This is a major flaw of the movie: for someone with so many demons, Jessica is decidedly not edgy. Perhaps the problem lies in the script, or perhaps Ashley Judd didn’t want to come across as unsympathetic. Who knows?

Things start to get a little weird when Jessica is assigned her first case, which appears to be the work of a serial killer. All his victims are men she has indiscriminately slept with. (Talk about your bad luck!) Of course, Jessica doesn’t remember killing any of these men, but then again she does black out every time she drinks. Amazingly (and improbably), she is never taken off the case, even when it comes out that the victims all have a connection to her. It even takes a while before her superiors consider her a suspect!

I looked at my watch at the exact moment I figured out the mystery in Twisted. It was a mere forty minutes into the film. One problem is that the movie uses an age-old cliché, which Roger Ebert has appropriately dubbed the Law of Economy of Character. It states that movies don’t have time for irrelevant things; therefore the killer is always the one character who would otherwise be completely unnecessary to the plot. In this case, it ain’t hard to figure out. Even the motive – which is supposed to be a big shocker – seems obvious. If you want to build a good mystery, you need to have several possible suspects, each with his/her own plausible motive. You can’t have one suspect with one motive.

Watching the last twenty minutes of Twisted, I had to wonder how the actors kept a straight face. Let’s face it – Jackson, Judd, and Garcia are all intelligent people. Surely they must have known that they were stuck in a ludicrous plot. Did any of them raise the issue? The finale is very predictable and overwrought. It even includes one of those annoying Talking Killer bits where the killer spends a lot of time blabbing in great detail about his/her every motivation. If the audience knows this is a hackneyed bit of screenwriting, then I assume the cast knew it as well.

I admit that I was with the movie for a while. I like all three stars a great deal; seeing any of them in a movie brings with it a certain undeniable pleasure. And although the film doesn’t work, it’s not hard to sit through. I’ve seen thrillers that have been absolutely excruciating to watch. This one moves at a brisk pace, even when what’s on screen is falling flat. The real killer, though, is the movie’s overwhelming lack of suspense. Here you have a promiscuous, alcohol-abusing cop whose one-night stands all end up dead. Despite that, Twisted has absolutely no edge, no sense of danger. It is perhaps the tamest psychosexual thriller ever made.

( out of four)

Twisted is rated R for violence, language and sexuality. The running time is 1 hour and 37 minutes.

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