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(1999) (Ashley Judd, Tommy Lee Jones) (R)

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Suspense/Thriller: Having served six years in prison for a murdering her husband -- a crime she didn't commit and which never occurred -- and armed with the knowledge that she can't be convicted of the same crime twice, a woman sets out to find him and reclaim her child.
Libby (ASHLEY JUDD) and Nick Parsons (BRUCE GREENWOOD) seem to have a decent marriage and a happy family life that includes their young son, (BENJAMIN WEIR). Yet in the middle of an unexpected but romantic sailboat cruise, Libby awakens to find herself and the boat covered in blood and Nick missing.

Despite the efforts of her lawyer, Bobby Long (JAY BRAZEAU), the fact that Libby was discovered holding the bloody murder weapon and that she's the beneficiary to a two million-dollar insurance policy convinces the police and a jury that she's guilty and thus is sent off to prison. Having entrusted the care of Matty to her best friend, Angie Green (ANNABETH GISH), a local school teacher, Libby begins what turns out to be a six-year sentence.

There she meets fellow inmates, Evelyn Lake (DAVENIA MCFADDEN) and Margaret Skolowski (ROMA MAFFIA), the latter of whom is a former lawyer who gives Libby an important piece of information. Since Libby has discovered that Angie has run off with Matty and more importantly, that Nick is still alive and with them, Margaret reminds her of the double jeopardy clause. Since she was already convicted of murdering Nick and is doing time for that, upon her release she can find and kill him, and not worry about being charged with the same crime twice.

Upon her parole where she has to report to her gruff and no-nonsense parole officer, Travis Lehman (TOMMY LEE JONES), a former law professor, Libby sets out to find Nick, possibly kill him, and retrieve Matty. After she breaks her parole and heads across the country in search of Nick, Lehman tries to find and stop her before she does anything she'll regret.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
Before we get started, let me point out something to set the matters straight. The latest Ashley Judd/Tommy Lee Jones film, "Double Jeopardy," is not the big screen version of those second round questions found on Alex Trebek's TV quiz show. Instead, it's about the criminal law regarding putting a person through a second trial for an offense they've already been convicted of.

As such, you may hear Mr. Trebek state on his show, "And the answer is, ‘The Fugitive,'" to which the knowledgeable contestant would reply, "What is the film that's liberally robbed by this week's release of "Double Jeopardy?" Yes, in yet another case of the old "been there, seen that" plunderous cinematic experience, we have another film that's so similar to an older classic that a law should be passed to prevent audiences from being put through a second viewing of essentially the same plot.

Sure, there are some differences, but most of them are merely cosmetic. In the original, award-nominated "The Fugitive," a man, played by Harrison Ford, is wrongly accused of murdering his spouse. Once out of prison, he tries to track down those responsible, but is hounded by a gruff U.S. Marshal played by Tommy Lee Jones who tries to catch and stop him, but eventually comes to the realization that the fugitive is telling the truth.

In this film, a woman, played by Ashley Judd, is also wrongfully accused of murdering her spouse. Once she gets out of prison, she then tries to track down those responsible, but must contend with a gruff parole officer, played by -- surprise, surprise -- Tommy Lee Jones who tries to catch and stop her, but eventually realizes the parolee is telling the truth.

As Yogi Bera would say, "It's déjà vu all over again." Okay, the two films are different enough to be examined on their own, but just as nobody confused "Orca" as anything but a rip-off of "Jaws" (a killer whale instead of a great white shark), it's doubtful this film will win any originality awards.

All of that said, and if it's possible to push "The Fugitive" from one's memory, this film manages to work in its own straightforward way. As the old saying goes, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and that's especially true if she's been framed for a murder she didn't commit and never even occurred in the first place. Thus, the film's "enjoyment" factor comes from our rooting for the heroine to find those responsible and kick some butt. It's a time-tested plot device -- although usually featuring a man in the revenge mode -- and it still works here.

Although the film takes a while to get up to speed -- essentially waiting for Judd's character to get out of prison -- once it does, it zips along at a reasonable and mostly entertaining clip as Libby travels around the country tracking down her husband while avoiding her parole officer. While nothing particularly exhilarating or unexpected occurs during the film, for the most part it's enjoyable enough on its own level.

Of course, that's as long as the paint by numbers approach taken by Oscar nominated director Bruce Beresford ("Tender Mercies," "Driving Miss Daisy") or the film's logic-related problems -- as penned by David Weisberg and Douglas S. Cook ("The Rock") -- don't bother you. Among those is the fact that the police don't arrest Libby right away upon learning she was discovered with a bloody knife in her hands and a missing husband, or that she breaks into a school without gloves, thus leaving her fingerprints everywhere and even turns on a light after seeing the police walking up (didn't she learn anything in prison?).

Then there are the bits where Libby escapes from Lehman by swimming away from him and the ferry she just drove their car off without anyone but a little boy seeing her, and another where she walks right in front of a marked police car without seeing it (although she's on the lookout for the police).

My favorite (and probably the best scene in the film notwithstanding the stupidity of it and that it's lifted from both versions of the film "The Vanishing") is when Nick doesn't kill Libby when locking her inside a previously occupied casket in a mausoleum (perhaps he watched too many James Bond films where it's better to let your victim die a lingering death instead of killing them outright -- thus ensuring their ability to escape).

Many of those scenes evoked groans from our audience, and while filmmakers could previously get away with such sloppiness (intentional or not), today's moviegoers just won't accept such material sitting down. Okay, they'll take it sitting down because that's the position they're already in, but that doesn't mean they'll like it.

What the film does have going for it is an attractive and/or personable cast. In the lead role, Ashley Judd ("Simon Birch," "Kiss the Girls") delivers a decent performance in a role that demands a wide range of emotions and physical abilities. While she pulls off most of them, the bits where she's supposed to (or should) be reacting to her husband's death don't always feel as realistic as they probably should. Otherwise, she delivers a good take on her character.

Although he's really only playing a toned-down version of his character from "The Fugitive" (and its sequel, "U.S. Marshals"), this is the type of role audiences love to see actor Tommy Lee Jones play. While he's not quite as defined or developed as in the first installment of that two-part film series and isn't as much fun to behold, Jones still delivers an enjoyable, if rote performance.

As the villain, Bruce Greenwood ("The Sweet Hereafter," "Disturbing Behavior") is appropriately smarmy, particularly when donning a New Orleans accent in his newfound identity. Although not a particularly noteworthy or strongly written bad guy, Greenwood embodies the character with enough badness to give the audience reason to cheer his well-deserved and obviously predictable comeuppance.

Decent but unremarkable except for its striking similarities to the superior "The Fugitive," this film delivers what's expected of it, but not much more. For those who enjoy the revenge motive in their movies, however, you certainly won't go wrong with this moderately entertaining and partially vicarious picture. We give "Double Jeopardy" a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed September 20, 1999 / Posted September 24, 1999

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