Double Jeopardy
Rating -

Thriller (US); 1999; Rated R; 105 Minutes

Tommy Lee Jones: Travis Lehman
Ashley Judd: Libby Parsons
Annabeth Gish: Angela Green
Bruce Greenwood: Nick Parsons
Roma Maffia: Margaret Skolowski
Davenia McFadden: Evelyn Lake

Produced by Leonard Goldberg and Richard Luke Rothschild; Directed by Bruce Beresford; Sceenwritten by David Weisberg and Douglas Cook

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Written by DAVID KEYES

As a critic, I leap to the opportunity of seeing fresh ideas in the movies. Our cinema is so dependent on rehashed material and propaganda that we seldom receive the ingenuity we deserve; filmmakers frequently reach into the bowels of cliché-driven stories, and pull from them the twists we can see coming from a mile away. But every once in awhile, someone steps up to the challenge, and hand down a story of unpredictable twists and surprising developments. These ideas are scarce in the modern cinema, and when the opportunity calls for it, we should all erupt from our seats and treasure them.

Of course you already knew that. Fresh ideas have already made their mark in the 1999 movie scene, including (but not limited to) the re-inventive horror in "The Blair Witch Project," and the satirical, biting edge of "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut." Now comes the absurdly new idea of "Double Jeopardy," which assumes that one cannot be convicted of the same crime twice, and thus sends its character out on a vendetta. Indeed, the idea is an intriguing one--but here is a movie that miscalculates its premise, lacks details, and does nothing to foster the novel approach. The movie sits on one interesting detail, and then gleefully drains its energy.

Character introductions certainly aren't the high point here. Ashley Judd plays a happily-married wife named Libby, and her husband is Nick Parsons, played by Bruce Greenwood. Both are on a sailboat one evening, in which they have, as fellow critic Eugene Novikov describes it, "some rockin' sex." The next morning, Libby awakens covered in blood, which leads up to the deck. At the top, there is a knife drenched in the same fluid. Foolishly, she picks it up just in time for the coast guard to see. Next thing, Libby is tried for the murder of her husband. Evidence is overwhelmingly negative on her part, yes, but if the movie were really as creative as it thought, Libby would be able to use the audience as her alibi.

She is convicted, and sentenced to six years in prison. An ironic twist of fate sends her to a cell next to that of an ex-lawyer, who gives her some useful advice, after she learns that her husband never died. The law says you can't be convicted of the same crime twice--when Libby is paroled, she can kill her husband, and cannot be convicted of it. This eventual case scenario forces Travis Lehman, a parole officer played by Tommy Lee Jones, to scour the area in search of her whereabouts before she does something she'll regret.

"Double Jeopardy" is not a bad movie. It has flaws, but the majority of them have nothing to do with the performance of Ashley Judd, which is credited with not being over-the-top or careless. Judd touches her role with light honesty, and brings reality to the situation, defending herself to the bare bones, even though the evidence against her says otherwise.

Despite an intriguing plot theory, though, one cannot help but feel that this is merely a new idea covering up conventional thriller treatments. One of the clues occurs in the first few minutes: ever notice how so many thrillers with murder happen to take place aboard boats on the sea? Another is the casting of Tommy Lee Jones as a cop on the pursuit of a criminal, which has been seen in "The Fugitive," "U.S. Marshals," and maybe others. I really don't mind efforts to cover up plot conventions with new intriguing premises, but it amazes me how unbelievably this concept stretches its details. The implausibility of situation only flattens the action sequences, which are shot well, but muddled down by obvious outcomes. The big finale, which I choose not to reveal for fear of hate mail, consists of several quick shots hammered together, so relentlessly awkward and confusing that, if the rest of the movie were similar, audiences would be forced to endure a second round of "Bats."

"The Matrix" is out on video. So is "The Blair Witch Project." Rent those if you want to know what new ideas are all about. "Double Jeopardy" is simply a window-dressing blockbuster masquerading as something new and inventive, and therefore should not be taken seriously.

© 1999, David Keyes, Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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