Some movies can sell themselves on the pitch alone. Consider this: a woman is wrongfully imprisoned for the faked murder of her husband. On realising he's still alive she tracks him down, this time with murderous intent, confident in the knowledge that you can only be tried once for the same crime, and she can now kill him with full immunity.
It's an exciting premise that loses a lot in the execution. Double Jeopardy is a dreadful dud. The only people in jeopardy are those who've purchased a ticket hoping to see a halfway decent film. You could be forgiven for harbouring that expectation. This was, after all, made by Bruce Beresford and written by Robert Benton, both capable of Oscar-winning product. Yet this could well qualify as the worst movie made in years by a respected director (and that includes The Phantom Menace).
It's not that a director as eminent as Beresford shouldn't lower himself to make such popcorn pulp — he just has no excuse for doing it so poorly. The film has an amateurish air, from the made-for-TV production values through to the sorry script, which includes some of the creakiest cliches imaginable. The women's prison that Libby Parsons (Ashley Judd) inhabits is so stereotypical, you just know there's a sadistic lesbian warden lurking somewhere. On hearing about the double jeopardy of the title, Parsons is immediately seen in silhouette pumping iron in a don't-get-mad-get-even adrenaline rush. Her parole officer and potential lover and partner in crime, Travis Lehmann (Tommy Lee Jones), is the typical crusty alcoholic, tortured by the mistakes of his past (although at least his wife and child were not killed at his hand in a car accident, just to make the stock character profile complete).
What makes Double Jeopardy so laughably bad are the heroine's attempts to track down her husband, and the path of destruction she leaves behind her. She may not have been deserving of incarceration when the film begins, but she certainly is by the final credits. In an effort to find her sinister spouse, she commits break and enter, resists arrest and commits wilful damage to property, including three cars, one of which she dumps in a river in a bizarrely botched escape attempt while still handcuffed to the sinking vehicle. While still in the water she tries to knock out the man who saves her, then races off to New Orleans where she fraudulently purchases an Armani gown and puts a bullet hole through a priceless Kandinski. If nothing else, she should be imprisoned for being a public menace.
Yet given that she does all this while on parole, she is unbelievably absolved of all these crimes. No such absolution awaits the director, who has yet to pay his dues to society. Shame on you, Bruce.