leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh
In the hands of a more gleefully provocative filmmaker, this variation on the standard erotic-thriller stew of sleaze, tease and murder, this ludicrous farrago might have been tawdry fun. But as directed by the estimable Philip Kaufman (THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING, THE RIGHT STUFF), it's just dumb and shabby. Newly promoted to homicide, former San Francisco beat cop Jessica Shepard (Ashley Judd) is met with hostility and suspicion; veteran detectives suspect that her advancement had less to do with merit than the influence of her godfather, Police Commissioner John Mills (Samuel L. Jackson). Jess' creepy new partner, Mike Delmarco (Andy Garcia), tells her they're full of crap, but starts hitting on her before she's had a chance to find her new desk. And Jess is under a departmental cloud stemming from accusations that she manhandled suspected serial killer Edmund Culter (Leland Orser) while taking him into custody. Her mandatory sessions with department psychiatrist Dr. Frank (David Straithairn) stir up a hornets' nest of painful memories about her policeman father, Mill's ex-partner, who murdered her mother and committed suicide when Jess was only 6. No wonder she regularly drinks herself into a stupor and has serious anger-management issues — not that she'd ever let down her tough-tootsie facade long enough to admit that a single cloud might mar the sunny sky of her vigorous mental health. Jess' first homicide case turns out to be a doozy: a corpse pulled from San Francisco Bay, brutally beaten and burned with cigarettes, proves to be a one-night stand Jess picked up in bar a couple of months earlier. A second corpse follows, bearing the same marks; he, too, was one of Jess's hit-and-run conquests. Could she be some kind of bad seed, committing murder during her all-too-frequent alcoholic blackouts? Or is someone, perhaps Jess' jealous ex-boyfriend (Mark Pellegrino), stalking and killing everyone she's ever been with? En route to its mind-boggling ridiculous conclusion, screenwriter Sarah Thorpe manages to suggest that "independent woman" actually means "drunken, self-loathing tramp" and that everyone in San Francisco law enforcement is sleeping with every one else, though she later makes it clear that that they're in fact only all sleeping with Jess. Given the overall atmosphere of softcore smuttiness, it's hard not to wish that Judd's role had gone to, say, Shannon Whirry or some other erotic thriller specialist who'd be willing to shed all pretense of seriousness along with her clothes.