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Double Jeopardy

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Double Jeopardy

Starring: Ashley Judd, Tommy Lee Jones
Director: Bruce Beresford
Rated: R
RunTime: 105 Minutes
Release Date: September 1999
Genre: Thriller

*Also starring: Bruce Greenwood, Annabeth Gish, Roma Maffia, Jay Brazeau

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

To paraphrase the words of my esteemed online colleague, Chuck Schwartz aka The Cranky Critic, if the story of "Double Jeopardy" were printed in a supermarket tabloid, the headline would be, "I killed my husband who then stole my baby." That's pretty much what happens, but "Double Jeopardy" is a the sort of thriller that has been done in more or less the same, routine style during the '70s, the '80s and the '90s. No matter how colorful the photography (and the scenes from British Columbia are mighty pretty) and how exciting the chase scenes (and they do make the heart skip a beat), director Bruce Beresford has double-jeopardized any chance he may have considered of winning points for originality.

Exceptionally well cast, the movie is tailored for the likes of Tommy Lee Jones as the cynical seen-all ex-law professor busted from his profession for a fatal accident involving drunk driving and now in charge of a halfway house for women on conditional parole. But Ashley Judd walks away with the show doing a fine job as a woman sent up the river for a crime she did not commit who is bent not so much on revenge as on recovering the little boy she could not hold for the six years.

What I hear from people who watch too much TV is that you could easily save your eight bucks by watching the commercial for the film, which pretty gives away the plot. And since the action scenes and color photography are generic, however stirring, what good is a psychological thriller with no twists to tease the audience?

"Double Jeopardy" opens on what appears to be a deliriously happy young couple, Nick (Bruce Greenwood) and Libby (Ashley Judd), who have an adorable four-year-old boy, Matty (Benjamin Weir). After they set sail on a boat that Nick has offered to buy for his wife and soon indulge in the obligatory love-making, Libby falls asleep only to wake up to an empty craft filled with puddles of blood. Catching her with a knife clenched in her fist, the Coast Guard picks her up, she is tried for murder and sent to prison despite the absence of a body. She learns from an ex-lawyer in her cell area that she could kill her husband in the middle of Times Square and get away with it, since the prohibition against double jeopardy would bar a new trial. Paroled six years later to a half-way house under the direction of the hard-headed Travis (Tommy Lee Jones), Libby is determined to track down her husband who, she discovers is still alive and prospering and recover her little boy, but the disbelieving Travis is determined to find her and send her back to prison for curfew violations.

From time to time the Australian-born director Bruce Beresford, known for more challenging work like "Breaker Morant" two decades ago about cynical military politics and for the Oscar-winning "Driving Miss Daisy" in 1989, cuts to the chase. One particularly exciting pursuit finds Libby, already in top shape for working out in prison, outrun by two cops who are presumably weighed down by paraphernalia. In yet another chase, Travis pursues his captured and handcuffed prey into the water to the astonishment of hordes of tourists. (Does anyone believe he would leave his prisoner the keys to the ignition while he goes into a cafeteria for a snack?)

The picture has the usual plot holes and a typical fussy finale in which the culprit is downed because he hesitates before he shoots. Can a man presumably dead who turns up as a high-profile hotelier in New Orleans can go unrecognized for six years? The film is partially redeemed by a solid performance from the exquisite thirty-one year old Ashley Judd, who turned in a layered role in "Ruby in Paradise" some time back and a substantial job as a vulnerable drug addict in "Smoke" four years ago.

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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