Double Jeopardy
Directed by Bruce Beresford
Written by David Weisberg and Douglas S. Cook

Starring Tommy Lee Jones, Ashley Judd


Double Jeopardy

"Double Jeopardy" is a version of the classic suspense formula story of the person who's framed for a crime, plots his revenge, does in the perpetrator, and can't be punished for the murder because he's already been convicted (wrongly) the first time.

To remake the story and avoid boredom, it's necessary to find and use any of a number of construction techniques. They can include, for example, a new wrinkle in the plot, or a set of characters intriguing enough to captivate us anew, or even a shift in perspective from the victim to the criminal. Alfred Hitchcock found a dozen ways into the story, with nice guys victimized and put in danger by malevolent unknowns. In fact he used it for a plot a number of times in his television series "Alfred Hitchcock Presents." And Stephen King did the classic variation on it (and Frank Darabont filmed it) with "Shawshank Redemption."

"Double Jeopardy" has a couple of assets that make this version work, and some liabilities that drain it of the power it might have had. The assets are Ashley Judd, in the lead role as a happy and naive wife victimized by her crooked husband, who frames her for his own murder and takes off with their little child, along with his wife's best friend; and Tommy Lee Jones as her parole officer, trying to track her down as she hunts across the country for her nogoodnik of a husband, after she's released from prison. Jones is an old pro, who could sleepwalk through this part and still make it attractive, and Judd has a freshness and wit and an expressive face that lets us know what she feels and thinks, without hitting us over the head with it. Inexplicably, or rather quite explicably, Jones gets first billing here over Judd, though his role is small and supplementary to hers. He is, after all, the name and she is not -- not yet, at least.

The liabilities begin with the script, by David Weisberg and Douglas S. Cook, which is a by-the-numbers job without a moment's suspense in it. Even calling the film "Double Jeopardy" lets us know before the opening credits that everything from the fake murder to the prison sentence to the final retribution will all happen as we expect. Which it does. Director Bruce Beresford -- at his best an extraordinary talent ("Breaker Morant," "Driving Miss Daisy," and especially the brilliant, unjustly neglected "Last Dance") -- has, probably understandably, given the script he's working from, focused here on texture rather than on creating suspense or mood. And so we get many gorgeous shots (the British Columbia coast stands in for Washington State's Whidbey Island) that are eye candy but too slack to convey the necessary tension.

Judd's character spends years in prison, but we see no change in her, nothing to make her more real. What should have been a transforming experience simply devolves into a shallow version of Sharon Stone's character in "Last Dance." Nothing fazes her, nothing can stop her, and so the script simply keeps putting new obstacles in her path. The quest takes her from Washington to Colorado to New Orleans, with Jones right behind, and by the time we all get to New Orleans, the contrivances are stretched far beyond the breaking point, particularly a scene in which she is entombed in a coffin in one of the city's above-ground mausoleums (don't ask).

And yet, somehow, there's enough talent and attraction on screen to keep us from laughing out loud. The film does hold us -- barely -- and comes out as a decent entertainment. What's sad is how much better it could have been.    

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