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Double Jeopardy a Risk to Brain Cells
A review of Double Jeopardy
by Robert A. Fulkerson

Picture this. You live a quiet, comfortable life on a lake with someone that appears to be the perfect spouse. Then he surprises you during a big party at your place with a sailboat. Of course, you love sailing, which you had just mentioned mere moments ago to your darling, towheaded young son. The odd thing about the situation is that your husband doesn't like to sail, but he says he'll learn to love it if you love it so much. Then, after making love on the boat that night, you go to bed, only to wake up later covered in blood. You're terrified, and you can't find your husband anywhere, though you do find bloody footprints that must be his leading out of the bedroom. You follow them past the kitchenette and the bloodstained counter, where you end up finding a blood-encrusted knife on the deck. Of course, you pick up the knife just when the Coast Guard zooms up in their boat with spotlights glowing through the spooky mist.

Director: Bruce Beresford

Stars: Ashley Judd, Tommy Lee Jones, Annabeth Gish, Bruce Greenwood, Roma Maffia

Rating: R

Release: 09-24-1999

Time: 106 minutes

Buy Movie at This is how Double Jeopardy opens. In the span of a little under 15 minutes of screen time, the entire setup of the movie including a murder trial has taken place. Which is something the audience needs to get used to, because most of the action in the movie takes place in unbelievable 15-minute chunks of time.

Libby Parsons, played by Ashley Judd, is the woman who has apparently murdered her husband in cold blood. When she goes to trial, there's a recorded radio message from her husband in which he states to the coast guard that he's been stabbed and that he's bleeding to death. The body, of course, has never been found, having conveniently fallen off the side of the ship into the murky waters below. Of course she's convicted of the crime because if she wasn't, there wouldn't be any reason to go on with the movie.

While in prison, she makes a phone call to Angela, the child's nanny she has trusted to take care of her son while she does time. No one answers the phone at that number any longer, and it takes Libby awhile to figure out how to track Angela down. She does, she calls the new number, and Angela is surprised to hear from Libby. Libby demands to talk to her son and, during the course of the conversation with him, he utters the surprised greeting, "Daddy!" Libby quickly puts two and two together and figures out that her husband Nick (Bruce Greenwood) must have faked his own death and is now shacking up with the nanny and her son.

Up to this point in the movie, even though you can predict everything that's going to happen because you've seen each thing a million times before in other movies, it's almost a good movie.

It then quickly spirals into silliness and tedium when she is paroled six years later. She is sent to a halfway house, run by Travis Lehman (Tommy Lee Jones). While she was in prison, a lawyer chick who apparently killed her husband tells her about "double jeopardy", which loosely states that you can't be tried for the same crime twice. This means, of course, that she can apparently really kill her husband and get her revenge.

The best way to illustrate how silly the rest of the movie is is to briefly outline the series of events leading to the inevitable conclusion:

  1. Luckily, a young college kid at the local library (who was trying to hit on Libby until he finds out she was convicted of murder) was able to tell her that all you need to find anyone anywhere in the world is their social security number. Libby breaks into the school Angela used to work at part-time and gets her social security number.
  2. She gets caught breaking and entering into the school and Travis must now take her back to prison for breaking her parole.
  3. In a ridiculous scene on a ferry, Libby is able to drive a car into the lake, steal Travis' gun and swim to safety on the shore of the lake before Travis can catch her.
  4. Libby tracks down Angela to a town in Colorado, finds out that Angela was blown to pieces in a house explosion a few years back, finds a picture of Angela in an archived paper, recognizes a painting in the picture and then uses one of the local art dealers to help her find out who bought that painting.
  5. She goes to New Orleans where, among other things, she bids on her ex-husband at a celebrity charity ball, gets locked in a coffin in a mausoleum and buys clothes at a swanky hotel shop using someone else's room number.
In all, there are so many plot twists and turns that it's difficult to follow how Libby gets from point A to point B. However, if you pay very close attention to the movie, you'll be rewarded with tons of useful everyday information. Such as, if I'm ever trapped in a coffin, I now know that it's best to have a lighter (even if I don't smoke) so I can see what's going on and where I am (and pray that the silk lining inside the coffin is flame-resistant, just like in Libby's) and a parole-officer's gun tucked into my pants so I can shoot the hinges off the coffin from the inside and get out.

You know from the moment Libby goes to prison that she's going to be reunited with her son. We're not let down, as she finds her son at a boarding school in Georgia, playing soccer and acting like a typical young boy. Which is odd, considering that the boy thought his father had died, had his mother go to prison, found out his father was actually still alive and sleeping with the nanny, had the nanny who became his surrogate mother for four years blow up, be told by his father that his mother was dead and then, finally, have his father get shot and die. For the kind of emotional strain this boy has gone through, he's remarkably well-adjusted in that last scene.

The acting in the film isn't as bad as it is boring. Tommy Lee Jones plays Travis like he would play Sam Gerard from The Fugitive or U.S. Marshalls. He must have needed a paycheck, and he should use some of it to get those sideburns trimmed. Ashley Judd gives Libby a believable smartness that she needs if she's going to track down her ex-husband and get out of sealed coffins. Bruce Greenwood, who plays ex-husband Nick, does as good a job as could be expected with such a one-and-a-half dimensional character. He's evil enough to think up a complicated plot to frame his wife for murder, but he's got a spunky-fun sense of humor.

Rarely do I walk out of a movie thinking that precious moments had just ticked away from me, never to be returned. This was one of those times.