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DOUBLE JEOPARDY(director: Bruce Beresford; screenwriters: David Weisberg /Douglas S. Cook; cinematographer: Peter James; editor: Mark Warner; cast: Tommy Lee Jones (Travis Lehman), Ashley Judd (Libby Parsons), Bruce Greenwood (Nick Parsons), Annabeth Gish (Angie), Roma Maffia (Margaret Skolowski), Davenia McFadden (Evelyn Lake), Benjamin Weir (Matty); Runtime: 106; Paramount; 1999)
“A poorly made thriller, reeking from conventionality and lacking suspense.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A poorly made thriller, reeking from conventionality and lacking suspense. It is played as a revenge film about a framed housewife who aims to get even with her slimy husband, but on the way to the film’s payoff the action is dull and unconvincing. All the characters are emotionally uninvolving. The script was lifeless and everything about the story seemed contrived, not to mention that there were huge holes in the plot. Under Australian-born Bruce Beresford’s (Don’s Party/Breaker Morant/Driving Miss Daisy) labored direction the air is taken out of every scene, even the one with the innocent woman in prison. She looked so dolled up and refreshed that it was hard to believe she was not at a country club.

Double Jeopardy in legalese means: no one can be tried again for the same crime. If, as is the case here, the wife is found guilty of killing her husband and if she decides to kill her husband who might actually be alive, she can’t be tried again for the same murder she was already convicted of. The film makes a big deal about this in its plot, but when it comes time to have the payoff go that way it chickens out to convention and ends its story in the usual way TV crime stories end.

Nick Parsons (Bruce Greenwood) is a business shaker and wealthy art patron entranced by his 1911 Kandinsky, as we see him snobbishly reprimand and lecture a houseguest, about the artist at his fund-raising party, who boorishly mistakes his Kandinsky for a Picasso. In conventional films like this one someone who rails against the common man’s lack of art knowledge, deserves to be cast as the villain.

While faced with money problems, the handsome hubby nevertheless buys his happily married wife Libby (Ashley Judd) an expensive sailboat she yearned for. After lovemaking and drinking wine on the sailboat, Libby wakes to find her white dressing gown smeared with blood, a knife in her hand, blood smears on the deck and her husband missing, and the Coast Guard conveniently by her boat. Though no body is found, Libby is convicted of a wrongful death and serves six years in a Washington state prison before she gets a conditional parole.

While in prison Libby gave her 4-year-old son Matty up for adoption to her best friend, the attractive Angie (Gish). But soon loses contact with her and while running a trace on her, discovers she’s living in San Francisco with her husband. Prison now becomes a place for Libby to physically toughen up and become more streetwise, and to plan on how to get revenge on her fink husband when she gets out; but, most of all, the nice lady wants to get her son back.

Libby serves her parole in a halfway house where she has to be supervised for the next two years under strict regulations by a former law professor and now parole officer, Travis (Tommy Lee Jones). Travis acts tough but has a soft spot in his heart for Libby since he soon comes to believe she is innocent and secretly commiserates with her. Travis also went through a crisis over a drinking problem and his wife left him after he totaled their car, refusing to let him see his grown daughter again.

When Libby breaks curfew and is arrested after breaking into a house to get an address, Travis takes her back to prison. On the ferry, while handcuffed to the car, she maneuvers the car into the water and escapes as it sinks. Travis will pursue her all over the country, as Libby uses her newly gained computer knowledge to track down her husband. The husband uses many different aliases but is finally tracked down in New Orleans where — he is, believe or not, the owner of an exclusive hotel and suddenly speaks with a perfect Southern accent. Travis is hot on her trail and also lands in New Orleans, enlisting the local police for help.

The story made little sense, but if you are looking for some bright spot it is in the scene using the quaint New Orleans cemetery as a pivotal background shot. The cemetery scene was the film’s liveliest.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”