In 1978, Philip Kaufman captivated audiences with Invasion of the Body Snatchers, a film that seared a lasting imprint into the American subconscious, so much so that the iconic ending scene has successfully transitioned into the age of the digital trope. Then, in 2004, Kaufman returned to San Francisco and made Twisted.
Well, as Bad Santa himself would say, they can't all be winners, can they?
Twisted's domestic gross only earned back half of its $50 million production budget, which, having seen the film, seems like an enormous accomplishment to me. It's not a great sign when the most exciting part of a movie is cameos from Veronica Cartwright (whom Kaufman directed in Body Snatchers) and Diane Amos (better known to some as the Pine-Sol Lady). Also starring Ashley Judd, Andy Garcia, Samuel L. Jackson, and Russell Wong. 2004.
And we're straight into it: a serial killer is holding a knife to SFPD officer Jessica Shepard's throat in an abandoned building. However, just when it looks bad for Shepard (Judd), she deftly outmaneuvers the psycho and has him cuffed in no time flat, calling for backup on her GIGANTIC-ass Nokia cell phone. Because being violently assaulted is no bigs, Jessica and her colleagues retire to the bar to celebrate both the collar and Shepard's upcoming to transfer to the homicide division.
Shepard's got both some big shoes to fill and some skeletons in that closet where she keeps those big shoes- her father, himself once a homicide cop, went on a murderous rampage that ended with her mother before he took his own life. Shepard has since been raised by her father's former partner, now the entire force's Commissioner, John Mills (Jackson). No wonder she drinks till she's faced every night!
Which is exactly what she proceeds to do- after leaving her colleagues at the bar, Shepard goes to... another bar, where she picks up a guy with a hand tattoo and has rough sex with him back at his place. Returning home, she fetches her box of memories, including a touching police photo of her father's suicide, and reminisces. Properly psyched up for her first day in homicide, Shepard reports the next morning to an apathetic receptionist (Amos).
She's awoken by her giant phone late the next day, and arrives at China Basin, where a body has washed up opposite a lively Giants home game at Pacific Bell Park, as it was then known. Jessica notes a cigarette burn on the back of the dead man's hand, then realizes in a series of panicked flashbacks that she remembers meeting the victim at a bar and going home with him. Come daybreak, she accompanies Delmarco along the shoreline, looking for clues but not finding any. She goes home and drinks herself to sleep again, nodding off just as the lighter flicks and the hawk lets forth a majestic "skreeeee!"
Another day, another body- this time, the body of the guy with the tattoo on his hand washes up under the Bay Bridge. Like victim #1, he's got the signature cigarette burn on the back of his hand, and also like victim #1, he has had Biblical knowledge of Shepard. She's starting to get nervous, and tells her therapist why. He cautions her to be careful, so she immediately goes into the dark parking garage, drops her phone underneath her car into an inexplicably-located nest of rats, and crawls under from the far end to reach for it instead of just walking around to the other side of the damn car like someone with half a brain.
Over coffee, Shepard gets her colleagues Delmarco, Mills, and Lt. Tong (Wong) up to speed, and they come up with a plan of action to both protect Shepard and track down the killer. Shepard and Delmarco investigate the tattooed man, first returning to the bar when Shepard picked him up, and then to his nearby apartment, where his landlady (Cartwright) trash talks both the victim and the trampy-looking woman he brought home a few nights ago (awkward).
When a homicide colleague makes a snide remark to Shepard about her relationship with the victims, she immediately leaps to conclusions and accuses Delmarco of spreading her secrets around the division. He denies it. They kiss passionately, then appear to immediately regret the kiss. Shepard returns home to find flowers and an invite from Ray, a former fling and former District Attorney who is now defending the killer Shepard caught at the top of the film. Shepard takes her red wine sleeping syrup and passes out, again, to the sound of a lighter flicking. The hawk has mysteriously gone silent.
You can see where this is headed- the next day when Shepard goes to Ray's house, she finds him dead. Shepard begins to suspect that something might be happening during her many blackouts. She gives her blood, labeled anonymously, to the lab to see if it's a match against the killer's blood, a small spot of which was found on victim #2. Nothing left to do but drink oneself into oblivion in the bath-- what could possibly go wrong? Thankfully, Delmarco visits, giving Shepard adequate motivation to get out of the tub and put on a robe. Shepard, thinking Delmarco is the killer, pulls a gun on him. But she's too drunk to aim or shoot so she kisses him instead. Yikes. She passes out and Delmarco stands over her vulnerable sleeping form like a total creeper, smoking a cigarette and looking at a chunk of thigh peeking out of the bathrobe. The scene ends on this ambiguous note.
Shit is snowballing out of control. Shepard gets quizzed and then yelled at by Mills. She copes in her usual way, by getting blasted, and when Jimmy comes back she's too wasted to fight him off. She slips into unconsciousness, aided by the sound of the flicking lighter. The next morning she wakes up with Jimmy's still form lying next to her. She's been Barton Finked; there's blood all over the bed and he is dead, dude. Shepard spend a brief few moments in jail before Mills comes to her rescue with labwork showing she's been consistently dosed with Rohypnol.
Mills and Shepard are now convinced the killer is Delmarco. They go to his home to confront him, and Mills tricks him into drinking some drugged wine. When Delmarco is powerless, Mills ties him up and begins to stage a suicide scene. Shepard realizes with horror that the scene being staged is identical to her father's suicide. Mills lights a joint and rubs it on Delmarco's mouth, intending to plant it at the scene- and it's at this moment that Shepard realizes that it's Mills' lighter she's been hearing when she passes out. In a rush, she realizes that Mills is the killer, and has been all along. Her father was an innocent man. And what's worse, Mills is now grooming Shepard to assist him and become a murderer herself.
There is a confrontation, and Mills won't go alive, so Shepard has to kill him. She shoots him and his body falls into the bay, much to the chagrin of the nearby sea lion population, who loudly protest with cries of "ORT! ORT! ORT! ORT!"
The similarities don't end there: Both films' iterations of SFPD officers enjoy kicking back at the Tosca Room for drinks. Both Curran and Shepard fly off the handle at a colleague they suspect of leaking sensitive private information. In Basic, Curran drives his car down Fresno Street during a car chase; Shepard walks down the same block to enter the bar where she picks up the tattooed man. Both films feature a handful of scenes filmed on the Embarcadero with the Bay Bridge looming dramatically in the background.
Despite there being two SFPD consultants on the film, there is a minor inaccuracy in an early scene, when Jessica is predicted to one day be "San Francisco's first female police chief." At the time this movie was released in February of 2004, Heather Fong had been named interim police chief one month earlier in January. A few months later, in April, she became permanent chief, a position she held for until 2009, making her San Francisco's first female chief of police, and the first Asian-American woman to helm any major metropolitan police force in the United States. Although it's tempting to say a misogynistic or racist consultant was throwing shade at Fong by erasing her from the script, the fact of the matter is that the film was almost certainly already shot, wrapped, edited, and being publicized when Fong first took the reins.
When I saw that some of Jessica's pick-ups were happening at The Saloon, a gasp caught in my throat and I murmured "oh, girl." The Saloon is San Francisco's oldest bar, having first opened for business in 1861, and many of the patrons seen milling about look as though they've been there since. It could be argued that using The Saloon was a deliberate choice made by the director to more accurately plumb the depths of alcoholism's utter despair. For me, it certainly took Jessica's character from hard-boiled cop to someone with a serious problem.
In addition to Shepard's large and unwieldy cell phone, there's another embarrassingly dated reference in the film that I very nearly missed, and you could be forgiven for missing it, too. When the first body washes up opposite AT&T Park (then still named Pacific Bell Park), the Giants are playing a night game in front of a lively crowd and everything's lit up like the Fourth of July! That's thanks in large part to the corporate sponsors whose logo flashes across the Jumbo Tron: a friendly energy company named Enron.
The Saloon is located at the end of Fresno Street at Grant Avenue. Fresno Street is familiar if you've read just about any other entry on Norton's Movie Maps; this two-block alley is evidently like fucking catnip to movie directors. For Twisted, set designers put up additional neon signs to make it appear as though there are other bars in the alley leading up to The Saloon, but in reality there are only residences and parking garages.
Authenticity: 6/10- Heads to the Golden Gate bridge in a tank top and gym shorts in July, but somehow intuits to pack a sweater, just in case.
Self-Loathing Score: 8/10 Jäger shots- You may feel the urge to run out and buy Plan B after watching this movie, but just remember: it's only a film, it can't get you pregnant, and it won't give you an STD.
Overall: 5/10- It's definitely not Philip Kaufman's finest work (because that, clearly, would be Invasion of the Body Snatchers), but it's perfectly serviceable entertainment if you're home with the flu and feeling disgusting to begin with.