High Crimes

The people in “High Crimes” keep making the point that military courts don’t follow the same rules as civilian ones. Unfortunately, movies about either topic follow the same rules, with the same cliches and fake-outs. This is a lazy, perfunctory movie.

It begins with idyllic scenes of San Francisco lawyer Claire Kubik (Ashley Judd) shopping with her darling husband Tom (Jim Caviezel), having dinner with him, trying to make a baby with him — in other words, making it clear, if you are at all familiar with movies, that he will soon be taken away from her.

Sure enough, Tom the ex-Marine is charged with murdering nine villagers during a U.S. mission in El Salvador in 1988. His name isn’t really even Tom. Everything Claire knows about him may be a lie — but he insists he is not guilty of this crime. He says he was framed, and that his commanding officer, Major Hernandez (Juan Carlos Hernandez), is the true murderer.

The Marines have assigned the undefeatable Major Waldron (Michael Gaston) as prosecutor, and wimpy new guy Lt. Embry (Adam Scott) as defender. That’s not good enough for Claire, so she decides to defend her husband herself. She enlists the help of Charlie Grimes (Morgan Freeman), who was once a military lawyer but — you guessed it — is now a washed-up alcoholic who initially refuses to help Claire because “you can’t beat these guys.”

Did I mention Claire has a trashy sister played by Amanda Peet? Well, she does. She doesn’t do anything, but there she is.

Director Carl Franklin, perhaps lacking confidence in the script (which is based on a novel by Joseph Finder), engages in cheating to convince the audience it’s being thrilled. Take note of every time the music, sound effects and ominous camerawork combine to make us think Claire is in peril, only to have it turn out to be nothing. I counted four instances of this deception — often enough that it becomes unintentionally funny.

But there are more desperate attempts to please the crowd without really surprising or entertaining it. The script continually sets up Claire to say cool things like, “I’ve already survived you once. The question is, can you survive me?” (Audience cheers.) It gives us a character who can act as deus ex machina and save the day. (Audience cheers.) It lets someone discover an important clue because someone else’s personal daily calendar from THREE YEARS AGO is still on his computer. (Audience cheers, then stops and says, “Wait, what?”)

Morgan Freeman has been nominated for three Oscars, so he shouldn’t have to do by-the-numbers material like this. Ashley Judd — well, this seems about right for the woman who gave us “Double Jeopardy.” It also seems about right for the audiences who loved “Double Jeopardy,” or for anyone else who doesn’t see enough movies to know that “High Crimes” doesn’t have an original thought in its head.

C- (; PG-13, scattered profanity, brief sexuality without nudity, some partial nudity at a strip club, some violence.)