Double Jeopardy boasts a hook that is killer--literally. A woman is framed her husband's murder and is accordingly sentenced to prison. While in the pen, she discovers that her husband is, in fact, alive and kicking. Informed of the "double jeopardy" law--that is, that no person can be tried for the exact same crime twice--she decides to serve her time and, once she's released, really off her not-so-dear hubby. After all, no officer of the law can touch her for committing a crime she has already "committed," no?
The few times I saw the trailer for Double Jeopardy, the clip where the woman in question, Libby Parsons (Ashley Judd), is told about double jeopardy by a fellow inmate (Roma Maffia), was greeted with hearty applause. And during my screening of the film, that same scene, in its complete form, was met with the same approval. But that's just five minutes in a film that lasts at least 100, and in time it becomes clear that the hook is all there is to Double Jeopardy, with nothing equally as interesting or surprising left to fill in the blanks.
The presence of Judd in the lead does go a long way in keeping the film watchable. Libby breaks her parole in Washington state and tracks down her deceitful husband Nick (Bruce Greenwood) all the way down to New Orleans, Judd is never less than believable, and as such there is little difficulty buying into the often-preposterous proceedings. Also contributing to the urgency is Tommy Lee Jones, whose strongly Fugitive-esque role as parole officer Travis Lehman is indeed one he can play in his sleep, but that doesn't mean that he's any less entertaining.
With the actors doing the best they can, the blame for this less-than-thrilling thriller falls on director Bruce Beresford and writers David Weisberg and Douglas S. Cook. From the premise, it's quite obvious how the film's going to end. After all, can you imagine just how let down the audience would feel if she doesn't commit the dirty deed? (And if the film didn't end that way, a test screening would have surely changed that.) So it's up to the filmmakers to flesh out the whole, and all they come up with is the idea of lost children. In an obvious effort to keep Libby from being too coldblooded, her main motive to find her husband is not to even the score, but to see her son again; to add some sort of bonding point between her and Lehman, he's saddled with an arbitrary back story where his own daughter was taken away from him after a DUI infraction. The more action-oriented "suspense" points that come along the way aren't much more effective. One too many scenes has Libby smash up a car, and one critical scene down the stretch has the villain committing the mistake made by Austin Powers' Dr. Evil--that is, assuming the heroine is left for dead when it would be much easier to make quick work of her.
But most people won't think of these things while watching Double Jeopardy, and the film may end up sufficiently entertaining audiences. However, it must be said that while there was some clapping at the end of the film, the applause was nothing compared to that which greeted the "double jeopardy" scene. It just goes to show that while a great hook does count for something, it takes a lot more to reel an audience in.
RATING: ** 1/2 (out of *****)
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