Revenge of the mom

It is very bad form for a critic to divulge more than the most sketchy elements of a movie’s plot, especially one dependent on surprising twists. Then again, the trailer for Double Jeopardy so neatly summarises the whole movie, flashing all the key moments of revelation, that it leaves you with little to discover beyond who will shoot whom at the climax. And you can forecast that with ease.

This is the third feature film to be called Double Jeopardy; there have also been three television movies of the same name. Don’t be misled by the echo of the title of the great film noir, Double Indemnity; this is a big, bright, glossy potboiler.

The “double jeopardy” rule in American law (apparently more complicated than presented in the movies, which shouldn’t surprise anyone) states that you can’t be convicted of the same crime twice. So, for instance, if you were found guilty of and jailed for the murder of your husband, then discovered he was still alive, you could freely go and kill him once you got out.

That’s the basic idea of this Double Jeopardy (and probably a couple of the others). Ashley Judd, daughter and sister of the country-singing Judds, plays Libby, a woman with a hitherto perfect married life who one dark night out at sea finds herself clutching a knife on a blood-drenched yacht. Hubby has vanished; she is the ostensible murderer. She’s tried, she’s convicted, and once she has served her jail sentence she’s handed over to parole officer Tommy Lee Jones to start her life again.

In jail, meanwhile, Libby had been informed about the double jeopardy rule, and she is convinced her swine of a spouse is still alive. She doesn’t stop to try and work out where, if he isn’t dead, all that blood on the boat came from or even if it matched his blood-type. Never mind: the audience can ponder that for the rest of the film – it’s the only mystery left. Off she sets, determination showing in all her fragile-looking frame, not to mention her big teary eyes and quivering lips, to find the bastard and get her kid back. There’s a kid, of course, so apart from the opportunities provided for heart-rending phone calls from prison, she’s now a mom with a mission.

Leathery old Jones goes after her. He plays it ever-so-tough, though you can increasingly see his committment to justice and truth peeping from beneath his stern and slightly shabby exterior. Oh, well, we knew he was a good guy, and he’s the best thing in the movie. A consummately understated actor, he seems able to speak without moving his lips. Unfortunately, the contrast with Judd’s histrionics makes her seem like a Meryl Streep wannabe auditioning for a part in a Maria Callas tele-series.

There are a couple of tense moments in Double Jeopardy. One involves a submerged car; another a tomb. But that’s about it – the rest is a plod, with some sentiment thrown on top. If the attempted marriage of thrills and sentiment was meant to appeal to men and women respectively, that marriage is about as successful as Libby’s.

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Shaun de Waal
Shaun De Waal

Shaun de Waal has worked at the Mail & Guardian since 1989. He was literary editor from 1991 to 2006 and chief film critic for 15 years. He is now editor-at-large. Recent publications include Exposure: Queer Fiction, 25 Years of the Mail & Guardian and Not the Movie of the Week.

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