Dir: Philip Kaufman. US. 2003. 96 mins.

Ashley Judd has made a profitable habit of playing strong, successful women at the centre of moody, otherwise male-dominated thrillers. Twisted (originally known on the international sales circuit as Blackout) is a serviceable addition to Judd's resume but one that lacks the charge necessary to attract audiences as efficiently as the star's 1999 hit Double Jeopardy or even her mid-level performers Kiss The Girls and High Crimes. Released in the US last weekend by Paramount, opposite The Passion Of The Christ, the new film - the first and last to be made under a recently-terminated production deal between producer Arnold Kopelson and German rights trader Intertainment - managed a modest estimated $9.1m estimated gross from 2,703 screens. Theatrical takes in international territories are not likely to be much more impressive but prospects should be better in ancillary markets worldwide.

Judd's Jessica Shepard is a newly-promoted San Francisco police inspector whose professional and sexual drives seem linked to a tragic childhood and her upbringing by her parents' friend John (Jackson), now the city's police commissioner. When her one night stands start showing up dead and brutally beaten Jessica fears that she might be doing the killing herself during nightly booze-induced blackouts. To clear her name, Jessica and her new homicide department partner Mike (Garcia) must find the real killer.

Taking a rare excursion into genre territory, Philip Kaufman (The Right Stuff) directs with an obvious preference for the psychological and sexual angles in the script by Sarah Thorp (writer-director of indie comedy See Jane Run). And there are intriguing moments in Jessica's encounters with boorish male cops, a department psychiatrist (Strathairn), an ex-lover (Pellegrino) and a string of casual dates. The brief sex scenes are employed more for dramatic than erotic purposes and the violence is mostly implied (though there's enough of it to have got the film an R rating in the US).

The moments, however, don't add up to sufficiently involving relationships or a sufficiently compelling drama. In fact, rather than heightening the tension the plot gets increasingly clunky and incredible as the story goes on and it ends in a denouement that's somehow both hard to believe and over familiar.

Judd gives a watchable performance, but while she captures Jessica's intelligence well enough she never seems completely comfortable with the ball-kicking, tough cookie side of the character. And her job is made no easier by some dopey lines of dialogue that undermine the portrayal.

Jackson isn't stretched but he gives a certain air of mystery to his part and Garcia, looking surprisingly authentic as a slightly dumpy middle-aged detective, adds some interesting notes to his performance. Manheim (The Practice) and John Sayles regular Strathairn add some class by making the most of standard-issue supporting roles.

Director of photography Peter Deming (Mulholland Drive) and production designer Dennis Washington (Prizzi's Honor) deserve mention for their use of the film's San Francisco locations. Instead of familiar settings like Chinatown and the Golden Gate bridge, the film finds some fresh backdrops for its action and neatly uses elements of city life to build atmosphere.

Prod cos: Intertainment, Kopelson Entertainment
US dist:
Paramount Pictures
Int'l sales:
Summit Entertainment
Exec prods:
Stephen Brown, Robyn Meisinger, Michael Flynn
Arnold Kopelson, Anne Kopelson, Barry Baeres, Linne Radmin
Sarah Thorp
Peter Deming
Prod des:
Dennis Washington
Peter Boyle
Costume des:
Ellen Mirojnick
Peter Kaufman, Sherryl Clark
Mark Isham
Main cast:
Ashley Judd, Samuel L Jackson, Andy Garcia, David Strathairn, Russell Wong, Camryn Manheim, Mark Pellegrino