Ashley Judd seems to have made a career of playing a bright woman in the grip of a conspiracy by forces unknown ("Kiss the Girls," "Double Jeopardy," "High Crimes"). That's not a knock; I think she has the screen presence to carry a film anywhere she wants. In her current movie, "Twisted," she plays Jessica Shepard, a newly promoted San Francisco police inspector - that means detective - who's been raised by the guy who was her father's old police partner and now is the chief of police - Samuel L. Jackson. She's assigned to her first homicide case and it turns out the victim is a man she recently slept with. And it looks like a torture killing, because somebody burned a cigarette into his hand. And guess what: soon there's another murder, with another cigarette burn, and yes, this guy too was also a one-night stand for Jessica. In fact it turns out Jessica likes one-night stands and rough sex. And then - Oh, but I think you get the point. They're dying like flies. And even her partner, played by nice guy Andy Garcia, starts wondering about her.
All of which would normally, in a good mystery film, be a very good premise. How come all Jessica's sex partners are dead, and how come they're tortured? It even looks like Jessica might be the killer herself. And the film has another good thing going: it was directed by the veteran and very skilled Philip Kaufman, who only makes films once in a while, but the ones he makes are always worth seeing - like "The Right Stuff," and "Henry and June," and "The Unbearable Lightness of Being."
The problem with "Twisted" is, unfortunately, that anybody with a brain will know who the murderer is ten minutes into the film. The script, by Sarah Thorp, has made a terrible mistake by giving us a major character whose only possible reason for being in the film is to commit the murders. Now how stupid is that? And there was no need to do it: the character could well have been held off to be revealed only at the end. Oh, well. But at least Ashley Judd handles herself with a good actor's panache on screen, and she looks good with her butch haircut. Garcia is also fine, in a role that mainly has him saying "But I'm your partner - you can't lie to your partner!" As is David Strathairn, the department psychologist who treats Jessica. Strathairn, who's a favorite of John Sayles, is one of those actors who can play anything and do it well. What occurs to me now is that you should come in to the film ten minutes late; that way you'll get the mystery without knowing the solution.