- The Washington Times - Friday, April 5, 2002

"High Crimes" is actually a low crime of the melodramatic sort: another mystery thriller that dotes rashly on Ashley Judd as she acts alternately obtuse and self-righteous, beamish and bereft, bossy and cringing. Considering "Double Jeopardy," "Eye of the Beholder," "The Locusts," "A Time to Kill" and "Kiss the Girls," there arguably was an Ashley Judd curse on movie thrillers before "High Crimes" arrived to magnify her haplessness and clinch the argument anew.

To be fair, she hasn't been the heroine in every one of these titles. To aggravate the offense, though, she is reunited with Morgan Freeman as a kindly mentor. He pretended to rescue Miss Judd from a sex fiend who kidnapped young women in "Kiss the Girls."

Here Mr. Freeman has a largely thankless role as a free-lance legal adviser, Charlie Grimes. He agrees to assist Miss Judd as crusading wife and criminal attorney Claire Kubik, determined to defend her husband against railroading by the Marine Corps. The defendant, known to Claire as Tom Kubik and portrayed by the chronically zestless Jim Caviezel, is familiar to the Marines as a deserter named Ron Chapman. They put him on trial for atrocities committed during a My Lai-style massacre in El Salvador in 1988.

The ineptitude of "High Crimes" as an exercise in deception ought to be a paramount liability at the box office, but the stupefying "Double Jeopardy" did enough business to suggest that a masochistic public exists for watching Miss Judd blunder or sleepwalk into jeopardy. Both movies are revamps of "The Jagged Edge," and they suggest that Miss Judd desires to become a cliche: the endangered heroine who has picked a wrong number as consort or spouse and needs a crusty older guy or surrogate dad to get her out of the potentially homicidal soup.

Presumably, Mr. Freeman is well-paid for such baby-sitting assignments. It's a little more shocking to see Carl Franklin, the director of two of the best thrillers of the 1990s, "One False Move" and "Devil in a Blue Dress," riding herd over the galloping idiocies of "High Crimes."

"Crimes" may set a record for red herrings: An expendable burglary and pregnancy rank high as dirty pool. However, I think I prefer such irrelevancies as redundant bald Marines both the prosecutor and the presiding judge on the tribunal that tries Tom, or Ron.

The plot reminds you of Hollywood's political mind-set before September 11. One expected a period of soft-pedaling when it came to anti-military demonization. "High Crimes" was too far down the pipeline to remedy its blatant prejudices. It's also shamelessly hypocritical, rigged for the most part to suggest that Tom Kubik must be a victim of appalling Marine injustice and conspiracy, with a general played by Bruce Davison and a major played by Juan Carlos Hernandez as the most conspicuous wretches in uniform.

I have had frequent occasion to marvel at Miss Judd's persistent cluelessness as a leading lady. There's still nothing in her emotional makeup to inspire rapport or confidence. She's a sucker for scripts in which attractive women are born patsies or dogmatic pains. Writers seems to be setting her up perversely for falls, which ultimately take the form of her being bound and helpless, depending on the timely arrival of someone to snuff her captors.

I don't think Miss Judd is consciously seeking incongruities of this kind while pursuing a career. They tend to catch up with her because filmmakers are more than a little perverse and maladroit about the way they formulate material. A glamour puss who looks as untutored as Miss Judd may be a magnet for cynical sabotage, even if a movie superficially pretends to glorify her characters as paragons or underdogs, suffering only because malicious people are taking advantage of high-minded virtue.

"High Crimes" suggests the blind leading the blind. It keeps piling on the laughable, disillusioning features that have become almost second nature to that strange phenomenon, the Ashley Judd thriller.

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