COOKIE's two estranged nieces - the imperious CAMILLE DIXON (Glenn Close), a self-appointed aesthete of letters and theatre; and her pliantly obedient younger sister, CORA DUVALL (Julianne Moore), who seems little more than a ventriliquist's puppet to the grandiose CAMILLE - live across town in what CAMILLE must find a frustratingly modest home. CAMILLE deplores COOKIE's indifference to social status; and COOKIE simply can't tolerate CAMILLE's pretensions.
COOKIE's one cherished relative, CORA's daughter EMMA DUVALL (Liv Tyler), has just repatriated to Holly Springs from a failed adventure in Biloxi. A guileless rebel and deadbeat of 234 parking tickets (a Holly Springs record), EMMA is an object of desire for local catfish supplier MANNY (Lyle Lovett), and the crazy love of JASON (Chris O'Donnell), an earnest if somewhat inept sherriff's deputy. EMMA shares with WILLIS an affection for COOKIE and Wild Turkey; and both passions have earned CAMILLE's profound disapproval.
CAMILLE has cast Holly Springs' most colorful locals in her selection for the Easter pageant play - a reworking of Oscar Wilde's florid play, Salomé. Among the principal players are the town's dignified (and only) lawyer, JACK PALMER (Donald Moffat) as Herod; jovial liquor store owner PATRICK FREEMAN (Randle Mell), as a hammy, Cro-Magnon portrait of John the Baptist; and CORA as Salomé, directed so relentlessly by CAMILLE that CORA's daily language becomes peppered with Biblical phrases.
On the day before Easter, even though late to her own dress rehearsal, CAMILLE rushes into COOKIE's home to collect a cut-glass fruit bowl - an heirloom whose ownership is the subject of a family dispute. After venturing upstairs in the seemingly empty house, she makes a grisly discovery: COOKIE, dead through some "misadventure". But "murder" investigations invent a life of their own, and this one casts WILLIS as the most likely suspect, the ubiquitous PALMER as his all-knowing lawyer, and fishing mate and friend LESTER BOYLE (Ned Beatty) as the reluctant police lieutenant. It also triggers the invasion of two criminologists from the neighboring town of Batesville - a zealous forensics expert (Matt Malloy), and the suave investigator OTIS TUCKER (Courtney B. Vance).
From WILLIS's jailcell (where EMMA bivouacs as a self-avowed con), to JOSIE's sensual lair at Theo's, to COOKIE's manor (stripped of its police tape by squatters CAMILLE and CORA) -TUCKER will encounter the liveliest un-murder mystery of his career. This surprising and often darkly comedic inquisition will unearth family secrets, unmask small-town loyalties and rivalries, and unravel the fate of Cookie's fortune.
COOKIE'S FORTUNE (12A) 1 hour 57 mins