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THE LAW IS A ASS for 02/01/2000
"The Law is a Ass" Installment # 29
Originally written as installment # 278 and published on the World Famous Comics web page on February 1, 2000
I can't begin to tell you how many people asked me whether I was going to write a column about Double Jeopardy, the 1999 thriller that starred Tommy Lee Jones and Ashley Judd. Who counted? I know it was more than one but less than the population of Fargo, North Dakota. (Okay, it was a lot less, but it was more than one, honest.)
I should have suspected I'd get asked, when I saw the movie's ads. What with its premise that a woman could get away with murdering her husband, because she had already been convicted of that crime, it would seem to make enough ass-inine ass-umptions about the law to be a perfect ass-ignment for ... Well, you know.
Yup, just perfect. There was just one little problem.
I hadn't seen the movie.
Didn't really want to. I have only so many dollars and couldn't really see shelling out seven of them--or ten when you add in two scoops of popcorn and a Dixie Cup of Pepsi--on this movie. So I decided to spend my money on better movies.
Okay, so maybe Jar Jar Binks managed the impossible and made me long for the Ewoks. The Wild, Wild West was an awful, offal mess so bad not even Leonard Pinth-Garnell would book it. The only thing frightening about The Haunting was that someone actually greenlighted this clunker that had nothing going for it--not story, not SFX appeal. Not even 'bots. And let's not even talk about the overhyped, underwhelming Blair Witch Project. (Oh come on, tell me you weren't rooting for the witch to kill that tiresome trio of teens by the half-way mark.)
But people kept asking me about Double Jeopardy. So, when a new theater--twenty screens, stadium seating, Dolby digital stereo sound and three scoops of popcorn--opened near my house and, as a charity fund raiser, ran old movies--including Double Jeopardy--for only a buck; I went.
All you people who asked me if I was going to write about Double Jeopardy, I know who you are. I know where you live.
I am going to get you.
"The Law is a Ass"
Installment # 29
They say, "you get what you pay for." But I don't care who they are or what they say; even at only a buck in a seconds theater, I overpaid!
What I overpaid for is the Tommy Lee Jones/Ashley Judd movie Double Jeopardy. If you saw it, you know what I mean. If you didn't then, "Arrh, maties, thar be spoilers ahead."
Yes, I'm going into SPOILER WARNING mode, and here it comes. Warning, if you're the victor, you get the spoils and what would you want with those? Oh yeah, and I'm going to give away every conceivable plot point for Double Jeopardy. Every inconceivable one, too, as that's what the movie really had.
Hey, you can't say I didn't warn you.
Libby Parsons (Ashley Judd) has the perfect life. Her husband, Nick (Bruce Greenwood), is a rich, successful business man. She lives in an expensive house on a wooded island in Puget Sound with both a view and enough Kandinsky paintings to paper a wall. She has a wonderful four-year-old son named Matty who belongs to that all-to-common species, cinemus toocuteforwordus. She has a friend, Angela (Anabeth Gish) who teaches at Matty's daycare and is both Libby's bosom companion and ideal baby-sitter. Yes, Libby has it all.
But this is a movie, you just know it isn't going to last.
Turns out Ol' Nick has the law and several creditors breathing down his neck over allegations of embezzlement. He and the au pair, are a pair, 'cause Angela's Nick's bosom companion, as well. He's looking for a way to disappear with his money and Angela but without Libby. Oh, yes, and he's generally a rotten, not-nice person.
But Libby doesn't know this. She only knows that Nick has bought her the expensive sail boat of her dreams and goes out with her for a weekend trip. That perfect life starts to go bad in the middle of the night, when Libby wakes up to find blood everywhere, a bloody knife on the deck--which she picks up in classic Perry Mason stupid-client fashion--and the Coast Guard off the port bow. But no sign of Nick, other than the radio message that he sent to the Coast Guard that he had been stabbed.
(Hmmm. Double Jeopardy. Sleeping With the Enemy. Memo to self: if you're ever in a movie do not go sailing with your spouse.)
Anyway, quicker than you can say "contrived plot," Libby is tried and convicted of Nick's murder. She arranges for Angela to adopt Matty then it's off to prison with her. Libby spends six years in prison. It's not an unproductive six years. She makes a couple of friends and learns how to operate a laundry Mangler. Then one day, when she calls Angela to talk to Matty, Libby discovers that they've moved without telling her where they were going.
Libby tracks them down with the aid of an employee at the daycare center where Angela worked who's so gullible she fell for the old "Hi, this is Angela, I'm not sure I'm getting all of my mail, could you tell me what forwarding address you have for me, so I can see if it's correct?" trick without recognizing that "Angela's" voice was different or taking the by-now common precaution of answering, "Let me look that up and call you back, so I can be sure it's really you." And these are the people we're counting on to teach our children not to take candy from strangers.
Libby calls Angela, who reluctantly lets her talk with Matty. It's during this conversation that Libby hears the door open, hear's Nick's voice and hears Matty exclaim, "Daddy!" Libby, no fool--this time anyway, but she's got most of the movie to go yet--immediately puts all the pieces together and realizes both that she was set up and how bad her situation is. She was framed for a murder she didn't commit and she doesn't have the box-office draw of Harrison Ford.
Finally, we get to some of that law stuff, I'm supposed to be writing about. One of Libby's friends in prison is a former attorney, who was disbarred and imprisoned for murder. She advises Libby to bide her time, get paroled then go look up Nick and kill him. The attorney out-law advises Libby that under the "Double Jeopardy" clause of the Constitution, she can't be tried twice for the same crime. As she has already been convicted of murdering Nick, she can't be convicted of that crime a second time. For Libby, it's open season on Nick Parsons.
And Libby--forgetting that you get what you pay for and that "legal" advice from a "jailhouse lawyer" for which you paid nothing is worth exactly that--dedicates herself to doing exactly that. You'd think maybe Libby would wonder how good can legal advice be coming from a lawyer who's doing time, herself. But, no. Libby bides her time and is paroled into the halfway house of no-nonsense parole officer Travis Lehman (Tommy Lee Jones) fully intending to carry out the idiot inmate's idiot plot.
Did I say "idiot plot?" Do sharks bite, with their teeth, dear? Do they show 'em pearly white? Should I stop channeling Bobby Darin and get on with the column?
Legally speaking, the friend's advice was about as sound as Silent Movie. The Double Jeopardy Clause says that a person can't be tried twice for the same crime, that much is true. The problem lies with the inmate's interpretation of "same crime." Just because two crimes may have the same name and the same victim doesn't make them the same crime.
The elements of crime consist not only of what you do, but when you do it. The date of the offense is an essential element of the crime, which must be alleged in the indictment and proven at trial. Another crime committed on a different day is a different crime, which would carry a different indictment and for which the criminal could get a different conviction, even if it's against the same victim. If I knock the UHF out of Tinkey-Winkey today, then do it again tomorrow, it's two crimes on two different days. One victim, but two crimes. Justifiable maybe, but still two crimes. In the case of Libby, the murder for which she was convicted occurred six years ago. If she were to murder Nick now, it would be a different time so a different crime, even though the victim was the same.
And so much for the silly premise of the movie. Column's over, right?
Unfortunately, no. The movie isn't over, so neither is the column.
Libby learns she can locate Angela on some teacher web page, but she needs Angela's social security number. So, Libby goes AWOL from the halfway house--violating curfew--returns to her former island home, breaks into the daycare center where Angela worked and steals Angela's work records. In so doing Libby violated her parole, not only by going AWOL but by committing two new crimes--breaking and entering and theft--while on parole. When the police respond to the burglar alarm, Libby fights with them while unsuccessfully trying to escape and adds yet another crime to her resume. Using force while fleeing from a theft offense is robbery.
Travis collects Libby from jail and is transporting her back to prison, where she can answer for all of the above-described activities. He has her handcuffed in his car, while they ride the ferry boat back to the mainland. For no reason other than that the plot required it, Travis has a cranial meltdown and decides he needs a coffee. So, he re-handcuffs Libby to the outside passenger doorhandle of his car, leaves the keys in the ignition and leaves Libby alone in the car, while he goes off to get his cuppa joe. (Hey, this is Seattle, they love their coffee. Considering the trouble Travis is about to get into, I hope, at least, the ferry had a Starbucks.)
Libby starts the car and drives it back and forth as best she can, considering she's cuffed to the passenger side, trying to break the passenger doorhandle off on a big iron pipe that's next to it. All she manages to do is back into the car behind her, damaging it, and push the car in front of her into the Puget Sound. If Travis had taken his keys with him or cuffed her to the inside of the car or done what any peace officer is trained to do from day one--not to leave a prisoner alone even for a second--Libby couldn't have done any of this. But, hey, how can you have a stupid movie, if the characters aren't stupid?
Travis sees Libby and tries to stop her. When Travis gets into the car, Libby floors it and drives it into the water. Travis unlocks Libby's handcuffs, so that she won't drown, and she thanks him by taking his gun and knocking him senseless with it, then escapes.
Remembering that a rap sheet is not the music that Snoop Doggy Dogg reads but a slang expression for a list of charges, how many more charges would you say Libby has added to hers? Eight? Is that your final answer?
Hey, don't look at me. I lost count of Libby's crimes, myself. But, yes, there are at least eight here. There's one count of vandalism for the car Libby smashed. Two counts of grand theft auto, for the two cars she dumped into the drink. (Theft is exerting control over someone property with the intent to deprive the owner of the property. Four out of five doctors surveyed agree that having your car at the bottom of the ocean does deprive you of it. The fifth is trying to figure out which moron dentist doesn't recommend sugarless gum.) There's one count of theft for taking Travis's gun. One count of aggravated robbery for using a gun while committing a theft offense. One count of possessing a firearm while under the legal disability of being a convicted felon. One count of assault of a peace officer. And one count of escape. But neither Libby nor the movie is done.
Libby learns Nick and Angela moved to Evergreen, Colorado. After a quick stop at her parents' to borrow some money and a beat-up old truck, she goes Evergreen. And adds the federal offense of crossing state lines to escape prosecution to her one-woman crime spree. Libby learns from a neighbor that Angela died in a gas explosion in their house and deduces that Nick has killed his second wife, assumed yet another new identity and has fled again. On the off chance that Nick financed his new life by selling some of his precious Kandinskys, Libby checks transactions on Kandinsky paintings in an Evergreen art gallery. She learns that Nick moved to New Orleans ,where he owns a hotel in the French Quarter under some assumed French Cajun name I can't remember. Let's call him Deveraux.
But dogged Travis has traced Libby to Evergreen, thereby putting Tommy Lee Jones into one of the smallest type-casting niches ever: peace officers chasing escaped fugitives who were wrongly convicted of murder. He sees Libby's truck, the description of which he got from the neighbor, outside the art gallery and moves in. Libby eludes him and uses her truck to smash Travis' rental car, so he can't follow her--adding another count of vandalism--fleeing in the old truck which, I swear, can't get out of second. Travis chases her on foot. A truck in second and a man on foot--this may be the movies' first slow-speed chase scene.
Libby goes to New Orleans. In order to confront Nick at the fancy-dress party he's hosting, Libby charges an expensive Armani dress to one of the rooms in the hotel, which adds the triple threat of grand theft, forgery, and uttering to her mounting tally of post-release crimes. Who says paroled convicts aren't rehabilitated? Libby confronts Nick and they arrange to meet in a cemetery the next day. Nick double crosses Libby again--making her the only person in the theater who didn't see that one coming--knocks her out and tries to kill her by locking her in a coffin inside a mausoleum.
Libby escapes, because Nick suffered the same sort of convenient brain cramp that Travis foisted on us earlier. After he's got Libby alone in the mausoleum with no one around to see what he's doing, he doesn't kill her by choking her then hiding the body in the coffin--an oversight for which there is no explanation--and he doesn't search her for possible escape tools; such as Travis' gun, which she still has. When Libby wakes up, she shoots the hinges off the coffin, breaks the window of the mausoleum and starts after Nick again. Ordinarily these could be two more counts of vandalism, but as Libby was acting to save her own life, let's let her use the Doctrine of Emergency as a defense and slide on this one.
Meanwhile, Travis has learned Libby went to New Orleans looking for "Deveraux." Were I a kinder man, I'd assume Travis did the intelligent thing of looking at the computer screen in the art gallery after Libby ran out and deducing her next move. But why should he act out of character all of a sudden and do something intelligent? Travis follows Libby to New Orleans, warns "Deveraux" about Libby and, surprisingly enough considering his efficiency so far, catches her. But not before he becomes convinced that Deveraux is Nick Parsons, that Libby is innocent and gets proof by having the Washington DMV fax him a copy of Nick Parson's driver's license photo which looks just like "Deveraux."
Travis helps Libby set up Nick. He pretends to blackmail Nick and gets him to admit that he killed his wife. (Remember, Nick doesn't know Libby escaped, we just wish she hadn't.) Then Libby shows up and Travis reveals that he recorded the conversation. He and Libby are going to turn the tape over to the police and have Nick prosecuted for murdering Libby, a crime he didn't commit. Poetic justice.
I suppose it might have worked, were the DA as stupid as everyone else in the movie. Say, as stupid as Travis and Libby were right after telling Nick of their plan. That was when they turned their backs on Nick and allowed him to get out his own gun and start shooting at them. He hits Travis and is then about to shoot Libby dead, when Travis dives into him.
Standard movie fare would require that the three of them struggle over the gun at this point. And even though this movie was sub-standard movie fare, they struggle over the gun anyway. And, as the movie is in Cliche Factor Nine, Nick gains the upper hand and is about to shoot Travis, when Libby shoots Nick with Travis' gun. Well, at least this one isn't a crime. Even I, Libby's harshest critic, can recognize a case of self-defense. Libby's slipping. Then Libby and Travis go get Matty out of the boarding school Nick had sent him to. Libby and Matty are reunited and the movie ends happily.
Happily for everyone who wasn't wondering how come Libby wasn't prosecuted for parole violation, breaking and entering, theft, robbery, two counts of vandalism, two counts of grand theft auto, one count of theft, one count of aggravated robbery, one count of possessing a weapon while under that disability, one count of assault of a peace officer, one count of escape, one count of crossing state lines to avoid prosecution, one more grand theft, one forgery and, oh yes, one uttering. I know I was.
Then I remembered Libby can sell the hotel and the Kandinskys and collect on Nick's insurance policy. She's rich. And she's got a big bucks lawsuit against Washington for wrongful imprisonment suit just waiting to be filed. Think Washington would drop its criminal charges--and cajole the Feds into not pressing its charges--in return for her releasing it from liability? Then Libby could pay for the dress, pay for the daycare's broken window and buy a few new cars, and the other victims probably won't bother to press any charges either.
Like I said, you get what you pay for.
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