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
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