Friday, April 12, 2013

Judge Dredd (1995)

Directed by Danny Cannon.
1995. Rated R, 96 minutes.
Armand Assante
Joanna Miles
Joan Chen

Now that the world has finally gone to hell in a hand-basket, the powers that be have done away with the little nuisance known as due process. The police, now known as judges, are that plus jury and sometimes executioners. In lieu of trials, judges sentence people on the spot. The only people above them are the chief judges. Think of them as the Supreme Court. The most feared of the judges is the emotionless Judge Dredd (Stallone). In true Sly fashion, he shows up and bad guys die.

Two important things happen to set our story in motion. First, really bad guy Rico (Assante) escapes from prison. Second, Dredd is charged with the murder of one of the chief judges. Lucky for him, he is afforded a trial since he is an officer of the law. In the absence of actual lawyers, society has no use for them, he’s represented by his partner Judge Hershey (Lane). All of this is a fine setup and holds together pretty well. There are some nice narrative touches along the way in regards to Dredd’s two main relationships: the one with his partner that’s built on mutual respect but underlined by sexual tension and a father-son type bond between our hero and Chief Judge Fargo (von Sydow).

From a technical standpoint, the special fx are still solid after almost twenty years. The only real issue, visually, is that shots of the characters interacting on the ground, within city limits, have a small feel to them. Rather than seeming to take place in a sprawling, decaying metropolis, it’s pretty clearly a studio lot. Even so, this isn't a deal-breaker.

Rest assured, there is a deal-breaker. The problem is in the execution. Everything is slathered in cheese. It’s all way over the top merely because it’s a comic book movie, but without respect to the tone of its source material. Having Stallone play the titular role doesn't exactly help. His performance is exceedingly hokey, even by his standards. He literally poses for the camera, struts along in an effected manner and barks all his lines. Of course, action scenes start with his prerequisite battle cry. The sum of his efforts equal a six year old with a towel tied around his neck for a cape screaming “Look at me! I’m a superhero!” Actually, the whole movie says this. That’s because despite having a decent story, the dialogue is cliché riddled from the opening credits on. Sadly, the one exception is the comic relief Rob Schneider provides. Most of it feels ad-libbed and is occasionally funny.

In 1995, superhero flicks were still in their infancy as big budget blockbusters. Released only a couple weeks after Joel Schumacher began his assault on the Batman franchise with Batman Forever, Judge Dredd was one of the first comic book movies, aside from The Caped Crusader and the then defunct Superman franchise, to have a lot of money behind it. However, once the rights were purchased to this and a number of such characters over the next few years, the people who made the comics were hardly involved, if at all. The filmmakers were on their own to figure the proper balance of what would work for mainstream audiences and what fanboys wanted. Not surprisingly, they often erred on the side of what they thought would create the biggest box office. It was a relentless drilling down the to the lowest common denominator leaving soulless actioneers that geeks like me saw as egregious misreadings of the source material, if not flat out disrespectful of it. They usually made money but didn't leave anyone clamoring for sequels. Unfortunately, JD is no exception. If nothing else, it misses the easy chance for social commentary that may have elevated it beyond being carried by a couple of exciting sequences. The character and his story is ripe for it. We never get it.

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