a critiQal film review Judge Dredd (1995)

Plot: In the crime-plagued future, the only thing standing between order and chaos is Judge Joseph Dredd (Stallone). His duty: police the violent metropolitan sprawls that crowd the decaying earth, and kill criminals on the spot if necessary. The tables are turned, however, when maniacal ex-Judge Rico (Assante) frames Dredd for murder. But, as his opponents soon discover, not even a prison sentence can stop Dredd from doling out his signature brand of justice.

Reviewed
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It’s kind of fun when I haven’t done the reviews for a film that has gotten a remake. That way, if I can, I try to do the reviews together, comparing the remake to the original. It helps if I do them together, so I don’t have to re-watch the original right before watching the remake. In this case, that original film is Judge Dredd, starring Sylvester Stallone.

For some reason, I’d skipped this film when it originally came out (probably due to the bad reviews at the time), and had never actually gotten around to watching Judge Dredd. Now that I was going to finally sit down and check it out, would I discover the reviewers had been wrong? Or was in for something really awful?

Sylvester Stallone was usually pretty good in action flicks back in the 80’s and 90’s. With films like First Blood (1982), Cliffhanger (1993) and Demolition Man (1993) among his action-packed highlights (with two of those films coming just a couple of years before Judge Dredd), he seemed like he should have been perfectly cast in this film.

While the role seems well-suited for him, he just doesn’t give it his all…ever. Instead of really diving in and doing his best to involve the audience, Stallone instead seems to give off an air of indifference that makes his character cold – with or without his mask on. While the mask isn’t on for very long, that cold demeanor sticks around for the entire film, with very few emotions breaking through his facade at all. It’s a very stilted performance, and sets up the disappointments the rest of the film brings.

Diane Lane, on the other hand, isn’t half bad as his cop buddy, although Judge Dredd seems to tire of sticking with her character for very long. She even does her best to break through Stallone’s icy exterior – albeit without much luck – and viewers should give her credit for that, too. While she emotes and draws in the viewers, the camera’s inability to stick with her just makes for one more disappointment in this film.

Rob Schneider also pops up as the comic relief sidekick for Stallone, and if that isn’t the oddest pairing, it’s the oddest seen on-screen (even Robert DeNiro and Billy Crystal made more sense). Despite Rob’s infamously bad acting, the camera seems to love him in Judge Dredd, and he almost gets more screen time than Stallone himself. Jeez, this movie can’t do anything right, can it?

Even Armand Assante is ill-at-ease in his villain performance in Judge Dredd. Other than having a sweating problem for most of the film (which is never explained), he comes off as the guy who got picked for the role because everybody decent said no. It’s sad, and he never really seems to post much of a threat to hero Stallone.

Even the special effects are marred in Judge Dredd. While the beginning is well done, with a very realistic-looking future city as the backdrop for Schneider’s cab ride, the effects quickly fall by the wayside once the action sequences start picking up. The scenes of a high-speed motorbike chase (a la Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983)) set amid the same future city, are a complete mess of early green-screening. It’s obvious from the start of the sequence that Stallone and Schneider are riding a stationary motorbike, and are superimposed over the chase background behind them. It’s like they spent the majority of their budget on that opening cab ride, and kind of just fudged the details on the big action sequences.

While the opening sequences – which include the voice of James Earl Jones reading a brief history, a ship rising up in front of a guard, and the afore-mentioned cab ride – seem to set Judge Dredd on the right path, the disappointments just keep piling up after that. With a big part by Rob Schneider, viewers can expect the movie to be pretty bad, but toss in some weak effects during big action sequences, a cheapest-bidder feel to the villain, and Stallone kind of giving up on acting for this one, and you’ve got a mess on your hands. Toss in the feeling that this isn’t a superhero movie, it’s more of a cheap Demolition Man (1993) ripoff (which had a lot of the same elements of this film – future city, tough cop, comic relief, prison escapee villain, etc – and managed to get them right), and the film just leaves the viewer with a bad taste in their mouth.

Thankfully, it’s not all bad. Max Von Sydow is a highpoint, as is Diane Lane. But with the camera trying to zoom away from decent actors like them and instead focusing on Rob Schneider, even they – or that well-done beginning to the film – can’t save the mess that is Judge Dredd.

Hopefully the remake will have improved on this film. Otherwise, we can always just go watch Demolition Man (1993) again. In fact, that actually sounds pretty good right about now.

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