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Starring: Ashley Judd and Tommy Lee Jones
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Rating: Rated R for violence & language.
Video Release: 22 February 2000
Tagline: "Murder isn't always a crime."
How can advertising ruin a movie? That's simple. How about when the ads give away all the film's surprises? Such is the case with Double Jeopardy starring Ashley Judd and Tommy Lee Jones.
What appeared as a decent (but hardly great) suspense thriller, Double Jeopardy was preceded by a trailer and television-ad campaign that revealed every major twist in the plot. If you were fortunate enough to have avoided the commercials, the gist of the story can still be ruined by reading the video box (like I did). Now, instead of an enthralling thriller, we have a predictable revenge flick that will only result in an obvious conclusion. Perhaps the only thing that saved this film is its star. No, I do not refer to Jones.
Tommy Lee Jones plays Travis Lehman, a parole officer who has lost a promising career as a law professor and his family due to a drinking problem. While Jones’ portrayal mirrors his role from the The Fugitive, his stock character capacity in Double Jeopardy is only skin deep. No, this movie is strictly an Ashley Judd vehicle who creates a compelling character that is mindful of past powerful matriarchs like Sigourney Weaver (Aliens) and Linda Hamilton (T2).
Judd plays a Puget Sound socialite (Libby Parsons) who seems to have it all: loving family, spacious lakefront home, a multitude of acquaintances, and her newest possession -- a fine looking sailboat. What starts as a weekend getaway for her and husband (Bruce Greenwood) turns into disaster as she wakes in the middle of the night with a blood stained boat and no sign of her spouse. Her life quickly spirals downward as she is tried and convicted for her husband’s death and relinquishes custody of her son, Matty, to her 'apparent' best friend (Annabeth Gish). While doing a six year stint, she discovers her friend and child have disappeared and traces them down to San Francisco. Shocked that her friend has kidnapped her child, her brief elation in hearing Matty’s voice over the phone is quickly shattered, when she overhears him call out to someone. Yes -- "daddy." The rest of the film then centers on Libby's determination to finish her prison sentence and track down her husband and the woman who have ruined her life and taken her child.
The theme of the "wrong man" has had it play in various Hollywood films (in particular Hitchcock films) though this movie takes on a twist by featuring the "wrong woman." Ashley Judd makes a diligent avenging angel as she is both crafty and shrewd on remedying the wrong done her yet, despite her hell-bent wrath, maintains her charm and dignity. If it wasn't for some very cliché moments, this film might have been worthy of its ad campaign.
From the character, Libby, holding up the bloody knife (just as the Coast Guard arrives) to the predictable umbrella chase scene in a rain-drenched New Orleans, it is such elements that only accentuate the film’s shortcomings. Indeed, the biggest folly of the film is the meaning behind its title: "double jeopardy." While in prison, one of the prisoners (an ex-attorney) gives Libby some legal advice regarding the Fifth Amendment and the clause of double jeopardy. Since she has already been tried and convicted for the murder of her husband, she cannot be tried for the same crime twice so when she (Libby) gets out, she can kill her husband with impunity.
Not to start a debate on the Bill of Rights, but I believe the constitutional protection against double jeopardy has a couple of footnotes which director Bruce Beresford hasn’t touched upon. If the filmmakers believe double jeopardy is such an open and closed case [as they depict here] they are not only misleading the public but setting themselves up to some severe backlash if ever an event occurs in real life. It is unfortunate that the director, who brought us the uplifting Driving Miss Daisy, has to make such a mockery of the judicial system.
If one can overlook such flaws (for entertainment sake) Beresford's direction takes us on an exhilarating ride from the Pac NW to the French Quarter with some splendid cinematography and exhilarating chase sequences. While Double Jeopardy had possibilities, (thanks largely to its strong heroine) and spent three weeks at number one in North America, a suspense movie isn’t all that engaging if the trailer divulges all of the film’s principal twists. Score = "2."
© Terrence J. Brady
The ratings for "Pan & Scan" are broken down into a simple 1-5 scale as follows: 5 = "Forget renting it - BUY IT!"; 4 = "Definite Must Rent"; 3 = "Coin Toss" (Rent it OR wait for cable); 2 = "Wait For Cable"; 1 = "Ignore It!" (Even when it's on network TV).