Rated R - Running Time: 1:45 - Released 9/24/99

Ashley Judd and Tommy Lee Jones are both respected actors, and with good reason. Judd's work in Kiss The Girls was very good, and Jones has impressed many times over in movies like The Fugitive, JFK, Men In Black, and Batman Forever. Unfortunately, even the best actors have to suffer mediocre scripts, and that's what seems to have happened with Bruce Beresford's Double Jeopardy. Written by David Weisberg (story) and Douglas Cook (script), the same team who gave us The Rock, this film takes a potentially interesting premise and makes some mistakes that result in a faulty final product. The premise is that no one in this country may be tried twice for the same offense, so if you are framed for murdering someone and they're not really dead, then you can murder them and not be prosecuted. Interesting concept — I wonder how many innocent prisoners have served 20 years, been released, and then shot their alleged vicitim just to test the theory.

Judd is Libby Parsons, the wife of Nick Parsons (Bruce Greenwood), an entrepreneur with a lot of highly placed friends. The two have a little boy named Matty (Benjamin Weir), but since his dad is so busy, he spends most of his time with Libby or her best friend Angela (Annabeth Gish). The Parsons seem to be living everyone's dream life until they take a trip on their new sailboat. Libby wakes up one night to find blood all over the place and a galley knife on the deck, but no Nick. A subsequent search turns up nothing, and Nick is soon declared dead. What's more, the evidence seems to point to Libby as the sole suspect for her husband's murder. She receives some support from her lawyer (Jay Brazeau) and from Angela, who agrees to take care of Matty, but Libby is nonetheless convicted and sent to prison.

Although she is having a great time learning how to fistfight and use cigarettes for currency, Libby still would like to get out of there, since she's innocent and all. Then, through an unplanned phone call to Angela, she discovers that Nick has the nerve to be still alive. He has changed his name, married Angela, and they are living high on the hog with the $2 million collected from the life insurance company after his death. (Don't those companies have rules against offing your spouse for the money?) Libby's mood instantly turns from "thank God he's alive" to "I'm going to kill that sonofab*tch." After 6 years in the joint, she is released with Travis Lehman (Jones) as her parole officer. As soon as practicable, she jumps parole and sets out to find and kill Nick, and get Matty back, with Travis hot on her tail.

I guess we're supposed to be rooting for Libby, but she doesn't make a very good protagonist. After her release, she's so willing to break the law, it's hard to believe she wasn't a criminal in the first place. She breaks into an office and steals files. She beats up on cops. She steals Travis's gun, dumps his car in the Pacific, and nearly drowns him. All so she can shoot her husband "in the middle of Mardi Gras" and get her son back. Are we supposed to want her to have a tearful, touching reunion with Matty after she kills his father? What's she gonna teach him — how many cartons of smokes it takes to get an extra blanket in prison? The double jeopardy thing could yield an interesting story, but Weisberg's plot has as many holes as last year's gym socks. Jones and Judd are convincing enough, and director Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy) keeps the dramatic pressure on, but the story is just too pretentious to be taken seriously. ***

Copyright 1999 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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