We gave it a B
Awww, you’re all snobs.
All you biscotti-munching cineasts who scoffed at Double Jeopardy because it didn’t stop to make sense on the way to the bank. You’re ticked because the thing bears no discernible relation to any reality that exists outside of the movies. Because Ashley Judd leaves prison looking as if she’s spent time at an institutional spa. Because the very premise of the film is bogus (ladies, please understand: If, after being framed for the supposed murder of your husband, you finally catch up with the rat bastard and plug him, it’s considered a different crime). And you’re really annoyed at the biggest offense of all: that Double Jeopardy was popular.
Get over it. The reason the film was a hit has nothing to do with believability (unlike, say, that triumph of documentary realism, Being John Malkovich) and everything to do with the tawdry emotional honesty of classic B-movie melodramas. Which is to say that if Double Jeopardy had been shot in black and white in 1949 with Ida Lupino in the lead, you’d all be praising it as an unsung feminist film noir and deconstructing it on your grad-school website.
Those movies were also considered mass-market junk when they came out. But part of the fun in examining, say, 1949’s Caught (Barbara Bel Geddes flees psycho husband Robert Ryan) or Woman in Hiding (Lupino battles murderous husband Stephen McNally) in the current era is appreciating how they let power fantasies — specifically, American female revenge fantasies — play out in a deluxe, plastic dreamscape where comeuppance is possible. If you bring logic to this party, you’ll end up staring at the bean dip.
Actually, Double Jeopardy is a remarkably potent (and certainly unintended) stew of classic women’s-weepie influences. You’ve got the marital noir: Judd’s feckless husband (Bruce Greenwood) sets her up, gets her jailed, then tries to kill her when she pops up in his new life. You’ve got the martyred-mama strain imported from hankie wringers like Stella Dallas (Judd’s Libby Parsons is bent on reclaiming the son who was taken from her). The wonderful old women’s-prison subgenre is honored when upper-middle-class Libby gets down with the sistahs in stir. Once she’s paroled, a more muscular modern blueprint kicks in, offering aspects of Sigourney Weaver’s hell-hath-no-fury maternal love from Aliens (not to mention entire chunks of The Fugitive, up to and including costar Tommy Lee Jones).
That all makes Double Jeopardy sound like a Frankenstein monster, when in fact it’s great, compelling corn — the anxious daydream you might have after gorging on cheap paperbacks at the beach. And Judd, to her credit, never plays it for camp. Instead, she arches her eyebrows and slugs her way through this pulp with the blinkered conviction of, say, Lana Turner in her prime. If it makes you feel better, you can always turn the color way down and pretend she is Lana Turner. The rest of us will hold the biscotti and handle Double Jeopardy as is. B