Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 1:55 - Released 4/5/02

High Crimes reunites Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman, who appeared together in 1997's Kiss The Girls. As in that film, Freeman's easygoing charm makes Judd (and everyone else around him) look good. This film is written by Yuri Zeltser and Cary Bickley, based on the novel by Joseph Finder, and directed by Carl Franklin; it starts out as a taut and intriguing story but seems to get more preposterous as it goes, until the whole credibility of the plot unravels in the final half hour or so.

Judd plays hotshot San Francisco attorney Claire Kubik, whose busy lifestyle leaves her just enough time to try to get pregnant with her loving husband Tom (James Caviezel). The two share an overly cutesy relationship, but one day it all comes crashing down when Tom, a former marine, is arrested and charged with multiple counts of murder in connection with a military incident that took place in El Salvador in 1988. It seems that a U.S. marine slaughtered 9 civilians (a crime punishable by death) after a terrorist bombing had killed a few Americans at a bar. Although Tom tells Claire that he's being framed and the crime was perpetrated by a highly placed soldier named Hernandez (Juan Carlos Hernández), he also has to admit to her that his real name is not Tom Kubik—it's Ronald Chapman—and he's been living a lie about his identity for as long as he's known her. Which tends to undermine her trust a bit. Still, Ron claims he's innocent and the massacre has been covered up all these years by Hernandez and his superior officer, Gen. William Marks (Bruce Davison), a highly decorated officer who enjoys a spotless reputation.

The military defense attorney assigned to the case is 1st Lt. Terrence Embry (Adam Scott), a very young and inexperienced lawyer who, while he has the best of intentions, has to admit he's never won a case. So Claire decides to help him represent her husband, and also hunts down ex-soldier and JAG officer Charles Grimes (Freeman), a renegade with a tiny practice who is known to be 1) the best at military law, and 2) a drunk. When Claire meets Grimes, he declares he's been sober for over a year, but he also doesn't hold out much hope for the case. Their investigation uncovers some very strange things about it, however, including that nearly all the soldiers who were eyewitnesses have died mysteriously in the intervening years. Added to that is the fact that Claire and Grimes find their lives threatened on more than one occasion by some dark, shadowy figures (even including the old "throwing oil on the road" trick popularized by Snidely Whiplash), and every piece of evidence that exonerates Ron is either inadmissable or contradicted by some other clue.

This is a fairly intriguing movie along the lines of A Few Good Men or Rules Of Engagement (both of which, incidentally, are better films); Judd does a fine job for the most part, and Freeman is always reliable. The supporting cast is also effective (Amanda Peet serves well as Claire's sister, who falls for Lt. Embry, causing further complications), but Finder's story becomes less believable as the evidence mounts, and the final twist is just a little too ridiculous to be believed. But if you're in the mood for another military law story and you don't mind working a little harder to suspend your disbelief, you could do worse. ***½

Copyright 2002 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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