'Double' trouble

Movie: Double Jeopardy

Our Rating: 2.00

"You're running on pure hate," a fellow inmate tells Libby Parsons (Ashley Judd), a wealthy Washington state housewife wrongly convicted of murdering her conniving husband, not long into "Double Jeopardy."

Parsons, thanks to another prisoner (Roma Maffia), has just learned about the legal principle referenced by the movie's title -- that is, you can't be convicted twice for the same crime. So Parsons, a willowy brunette with a winning smile that's all but disappeared lately, goes the Rambo route, pumping iron and running ceaselessly in preparation for her act of sweet revenge.

"Double Jeopardy," an ultimately unsatisfying, openly manipulative thriller from Bruce Beresford, is as simplistic and single-minded as the emotion that motivates its heroine, portrayed by Judd in a two-note performance. She's alternately sugary-sweet and sexy, and driven to rage by her plight.

It's a transparent formula: Cook up a suitably evil bad guy, this time personified by smug, overachieving yuppie Nick Parsons (a suitably sinister Bruce Greenwood). Give an appealing protagonist a motive for malice, handily accomplished via her husband's disappearance with their 4-year-old son, Matty (Benjamin Weir), and his school-teacher Angie (Annabeth Gish).

And tack on a race against time, in the form of a desperate attempt to elude the pursuit of Travis Lehman (Tommy Lee Jones), a tough, craggy-faced parole officer who's clearly burnt out, but still able to conduct a relentless chase.

Mix in some intriguing locations, from the natural beauty of Vancouver, British Columbia, doubling for the Whidbey Island area of Washington, to the urban exoticism of New Orleans. Voila! You've got a paint-by-numbers action picture, with a few chick-flick elements thrown in for good measure. It's a cross between "The Fugitive" and practically any endangered-mom-and-kid movie on the Lifetime network.

"Double Jeopardy," preceded by a trailer and television-ad campaign that practically revealed every major twist in the plot, opens on a note of serenity, as Libby and cute Matty relax on the waterfront, adjacent to the family's spacious wood-and-stone home.

A little while later, Nick and Libby enjoy wine, cheese and a little romp in the cabin down below the main deck of the luxurious sailboat he's just purchased for her. The next morning, she's covered in blood and he's gone. The Coast Guard shows up just as Libby picks up the bloodied knife apparently used as the murder weapon.

The remainder of the film, one of the lesser efforts helmed by the Australian-born director who gave us "Driving Miss Daisy" and "Breaker Morant," amounts to an only occasionally suspenseful game of cat-and-mouse. But several action sequences, including Libby's watery escape from a car, her ram-rodding of several vehicles and a later scenario straight out of a horror movie, are tense and cleverly executed.

Still, too much of "Double Jeopardy" is illogical. It's much more exciting for viewers to watch a wronged woman take matters into her own hands rather than elicit help that's ready and waiting.

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