Double Jeopardy Movie Review

Movie Review by Anthony Leong © Copyright 1999

Tommy Lee Jones and Ashley JuddDouble Jeopardy logo

Hi Nick... I learned a few things in prison... I can shoot you right in the middle of Mardi Gras and they can't touch me.

Murder may not always be in a crime, but "Double Jeopardy" certainly is, with the way it manages to waste three fine actors on a story riddled with plot holes and lazy shortcuts, especially when it is guided by the director who helmed "Driving Miss Daisy", Bruce Beresford. For the uninitiated, the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution states that a person cannot be convicted of the same offense twice, which is also referred as the 'double jeopardy' clause. Using this legal tidbit as a starting point, "Double Jeopardy" spins an elaborate (and often implausible) revenge thriller that plays out more like a rejected sequel to "The Fugitive". About the only thing that keeps "Double Jeopardy" from winding up in the trash bin is Ashley Judd ("Kiss the Girls"), whose compelling and heartfelt performance manages to offset the shortfalls of the script... but not by much.

Put the knife down ma'am and step away!
I don't... know... where my husband is!
Ashely Judd and Benjamin Weir

If you have seen the trailer, you essentially know the set-up and most of the key plot points. Libby Parsons (Judd) is a happily married woman living an upper-crust lifestyle with her husband Nick (Bruce Greenwood of "The Sweet Hereafter") and her son Matty (Benjamin Weir of "Arlington Road"). However, during an overnight sailing trip, she wakes up to an empty boat, covered with her husband's blood and holding a knife. The police, putting two and two together, formally charge Libby for her husband's murder, and she is convicted in the subsequent trial. Looking at a long prison sentence in front of her, she asks her best friend Angie (Annabeth Gish of "The Last Supper") to formally adopt Matty and take care of him until she is free once again.

You can walk right up to him in Times Square, put a gun to his head, and pull the trigger... and there's nothing anybody can do about it. Makes you feel all warm and tingly all over, don't it?

But Libby soon learns that appearances are deceiving. A chance phone call to her son reveals that Nick is alive and well, having faked his own death, and is now living with her best friend. Luckily, a fellow inmate (Roma Maffia of TV's "The Profiler"), who happens to be an ex-lawyer (!), fills Libby in on the double jeopardy loophole, providing a means by which to kill her husband without legal repercussions (syeah, right). With some bad legal advice and her heart sent on revenge, Libby begins a grueling program of physical training to prepare herself.

I'm not interested in your contrition. I'm interested in your behavior. Now get out of here and behave yourself!

Six years later, Libby is granted a reprieve from her sentence and sent to a halfway house supervised by parole officer Travis (Tommy Lee Jones of "Men in Black"), who also happens to be another ex-lawyer (what are the chances?). Aided by the Internet (ain't information technology grand?) and her own iron-clad resolve, Libby begins a cross-country trek to track down her conniving husband, and more importantly, to be reunited with her son. Of course, such an action violates the conditions of her parole, which sends Travis hot on her trail.

Who's this?
Somebody I'm looking for.
Pretty girl.
Oh yeah, she's very pretty, for a convicted murderer.

"Double Jeopardy" is one of those movies that takes a concept, places an unbelievable set of circumstances around it, and then unleashes it on characters who do stupid things. In a similar fashion to what "The Net" did for the Internet, "Double Jeopardy" does for the Fifth Amendment. Given that the movie's trailer reveals most of the plot, the only suspense in "Double Jeopardy" is derived from watching Libby track down Nick with Travis on her tail. Unfortunately, Libby's search for the truth is so full of coincidences, inconsistencies, and lucky breaks that it is difficult to maintain a suspension of disbelief. Either Libby is incredibly lucky or scribes David Weisberg and Douglas S. Cook were really lazy because:

Tommy Lee Jones

Other than some excellent cinematography by Peter James, the only redeeming quality of the movie is the acting. Judd leads the procession with her star turn as a driven woman out to get her son back and right wrongs. With such a compelling performance that oozes poise, determination, and still some vulnerability, it is easy to root for Libby, even if she has some misguided perceptions about the law. Jones does his familiar "Fugitive" schtick, chasing after Libby with a no-nonsense attitude and some dry humor to boot- not his best work, but still fun to watch. Greenwood is also deserving of better role, but he manages to play the movie's villain with a certain level of finesse. Another great performance comes from Maffia, who delivers her street-mart lines with great aplomb.

Ever arrest someone you thought was innocent?

"Double Jeopardy" is one of those movies you can judge by the trailer. If you can't help but chuckle from the trailer's justification for murder via the Fifth Amendment, then you'll know that "Double Jeopardy" is not the movie for you. Other than some great performances, especially rising star Ashley Judd, this is a movie that they should lock up and throw away the key, since it requires the audience to be as stupid as the characters on the screen.

Images courtesy of Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved.


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