CAREER INTERVENTION: ASHLEY JUDD

THE CRISIS: Look, we like her, too. In theory. But ever since Ashley Judd leaped to stardom with the hit thrillers "Kiss the Girls" and "Double Jeopardy," she's made bad choices, continuing to milk the formula with "High Crimes" and "Eye of the Beholder." Her latest, Paramount's "Twisted," opened to a dismal $8.9 million. The studio is now retiring the genre. "Ashley's like the John Wayne of the 21st century," says one industry exec. "Every time you see an Ashley Judd movie, you feel like you've seen it before--with her in it." Judd's most impressive performance in years, in "The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood," was sadly ignored. Her recent stint on Broadway in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" was justifiably slashed. "Here's the hard-core truth," says a talent agent. "She hasn't had a hit since 1999. Her movies aren't earning money--or raves. She's picking formulas instead of parts. She's really beautiful, but she's boring." Adds the head of an indie company: "She's stuck in a trap, and she's going to have to chew off part of her leg to get out of it."

THE CURE: First, "she's got to stop making Ashley Judd movies," says one producer. On this point, the Hollywood power brokers interviewed for this story agree. "People think stardom is about being a babe," says Lynda Obst, producer of Judd's "Someone Like You." "It isn't. The key to female stardom is being a girl that girls love, and Ashley has the makings of that. It'd be great if she did more romantic comedies." Adds an agent, "I always feel like she's the man in the movie. She needs something to soften her up--like Laura Linney's character in 'You Can Count on Me'--and she needs to work with a director like Robert Altman, who's going to get the essence of who she is." Everyone agrees that Judd should take second or third billing in indie films by provocative directors. As it happens, she's circling three low-budget films, and may well get her groove back. "These things are cyclical," Obst says. "I think she's enormously talented. I'm crazy about her." Now Judd just has to work on the rest of us.