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‘Twisted’ is a who-cares whodunit

Ashley Judd plays a police inspector suspected of murder. By John Hartl

For reasons that only the box-office gods comprehend, Ashley Judd is marquee gold whenever she appears in a sleazy, twisty contemporary thriller. “Kiss the Girls” and “Double Jeopardy” established her commercial credentials, and even “Eye of the Beholder” did some business before negative word-of-mouth killed it.

“Twisted,” her latest entry in the genre, is just as mediocre as its predecessors, and may even be a little bit worse. But with a track record like hers, who would bet against Judd’s chances this weekend? The major studios haven’t scored a hit in a couple of weeks, and this could be the one to break out.

First-time screenwriter Sarah Thorp’s script is not completely by-the-numbers. It even allows Judd to take some chances by playing a troubled, impulsive, promiscuous San Francisco police inspector named Jessica Shepard. When the men she sleeps with start turning up as stiffs, suspicions gradually center on her.

Her father was a killer, after all, and we’ve seen her explode into furious action, kicking a suspect and a fellow officer in the face. And Jessica has these blackouts, when she apparently drinks too much wine, passes out and wakes up the next morning wondering where she’s been and what mischief she’s done.

Jessica eventually suspects herself. With the help of a poker-faced shrink (David Strathairn), her flakey partner (Andy Garcia), a smart lab assistant (Camryn Manheim), a one-time lover (Mark Pellegrino) and the policeman who raised her (Samuel L. Jackson), she tries to get her bearings and figure out who should be feared or trusted.

Actors phone it inNone of this is remotely believable or compelling, mostly because just about everyone delivers phoned-in performances, even Jackson and Strathairn. Judd has rarely seemed so remote. Also wasted is Russell Wong, in a thankless role as a worried police lieutenant. A prize winner for her work on the television series, “The Practice,” Manheim makes the strongest impression, though she has only a few scenes to make her character count.

By the time the movie’s 90 minutes are up, it’s impossible to care whodunit or why. While there is an undeniable logic to the finale, which flirts with tragedy, it’s not given the proper weight. It’s treated as a throwaway, just like the red herrings that surface earlier.

It comes as somewhat of a shock that Philip Kaufman, the director of such classics as “The Right Stuff” and “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” was responsible for this forgettable swill. How low the mighty have fallen, but then it’s been several years since Kaufman directed his last picture (“Quills”). Presumably he was well-paid for this one, and may even get a career boost if “Twisted” turns out to be a hit.

And whatever his problems with the rest of the picture, Kaufman does begin the movie with an elegant series of images of the fogbound Golden Gate Bridge, followed by some equally gauzy shots of the Palace of Fine Arts. They would not have seemed out of place in Hitchcock’s “Vertigo.”