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Lost in a Masquerade

A review of "Mumford" and "Double Jeopardy"


*Mumford (R)

Double Jeopardy (R)

The two prominent Hollywood directors who made these films started out with a similar theme -- people are not always what they seem -- and from that premise took off in two very different directions. Bruce Beresford, who has been known up to now for making gentle character studies like Tender Mercies and Driving Miss Daisy, decided to make a thriller about deception. Lawrence Kasdan, who mastered yuppie sensibilities with films like The Big Chill and Grand Canyon, chose to make a romantic comedy about deception.

Beresford should have stuck with the genre he knows best.

Despite an excellent cast and clever premise, there are so many problems with Double Jeopardy it's hard to enumerate them. In the first place, a thriller requires suspense, and in this case, all mystery has been erased by an ambitious pre-release advertising campaign that gave away the basic plot of the film -- woman (Ashley Judd) is married to cute, rich husband (Bruce Greenwood) and together they have a cute little kid and a perfect life; husband mysteriously dies and wife is accused of murder; from prison, wife discovers husband is still alive and plans to hunt him down following her release. She can kill him, she is told, because according to the law of double jeopardy, you cannot be tried twice for the same crime.

There is no shame in giving away this plot, since it has been splashed across television and movie screens for the past six months. All you really need to know is that seeing the film is not nearly as intriguing as watching the trailer.

Ashley Judd is tough, fierce and intelligent as the wronged mother and wife, but her grit and good looks are wasted in an otherwise predictable, formulaic script. Tommy Lee Jones as her parole officer merely tags along. The best-acted character in the film is the least likable -- Nick, the slick, scumbag husband played with ooze and smarm by talented Bruce Greenwood (The Sweet Hereafter).

Gorgeous location shots of Vancouver and New Orleans provide momentary visual distractions but add little to the drama, and sloppy sound editing detracts throughout.

With Mumford, Lawrence Kasdan takes the deception theme to a level of pure serendipity. Most of the scenes take place in the shabby office of Dr. Mumford (Loren Dean), a popular psychologist in a dreamy Northern California town who has an uncanny knack for empathy with his cast of offbeat patients. There's Hope Davis as Sofie, a woman so chronically fatigued she won't lie down on Dr. Mumford's sofa for fear of falling asleep. Mary McDonnell is Althea, an attractive, middle-aged compulsive shopper; Zooey Deschanel is Nessa, a bulimic, teenaged head-banger; and Pruitt Taylor Vince is Henry, the town pharmacist, an overweight dreamer lost in pulp-fiction sexual fantasies.

Explicit trust for Dr. Mumford anchors the cast and the plot of the film, but the good doctor is not who he appears to be. As we grow to love him, we also learn about his secret past and his true identity, and we come to understand what this sweet little film is all about -- reconciling who we appear to be on the outside with feelings of inadequacy, with secret hopes, dreams, drives and desires.

Alfre Woodard adds a dimension of stability as Lily, the operator of the local diner, and Jason Lee (Chasing Amy) plays the delightfully offbeat town wunderkind Skip Skipperton, who becomes Dr. Mumford's confidante and best friend.

Kasdan never preaches but allows his characters to deliver the message with wonderful freshness and vulnerability. Mumford is light and fresh throughout, a quirky and capable ensemble effort with a heart of pure gold.

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