Director : Danny Cannon
Year Of Release : 1995
Principal Cast : Sylvester Stallone, Diane Lane, Rob Schneider, Armand Assante, Max Von Sydow, Joanna Miles, Joan Chen, Balthazar Getty, Jurgen Prochnow, Maurice Roeves, Giancarlo Esposito, Ian Dury, Christopher Adamson, Ewen Bremner, Mitch Ryan, James Remar.
Approx Running Time : 96 Minutes
Synopsis: In a dystopian future, Joseph Dredd, the most famous Judge (a police officer with instant field judiciary powers), is convicted for a crime he did not commit and must face his murderous counterpart.
The disaster of Danny Cannon’s Judge Dredd is legendary among genre fans. It’s also routinely touted as one of the worst comic-book movies of all time. Does it deserve such derision? Yeah, it does, but it’s still worth watching. The Dredd comic book’s popularity ensured somebody would take a crack at filming it, and considering the square-jawed nature of the central character the casting of Sylvester Stallone as the Judge himself was about as perfect casting as you could get. Featuring some pretty impressive practical visual effects, top-notch production design, and a blue-chip cast (with one exception) delivering potentially good performances, Judge Dredd’s misfiring result is something of a head-scratcher.
Dredd (Stallone) is a Judge in the dystopian world of the future, engaged in upholding the Law of Mega-City 1. He delivers summary justice for the City Council, who are trying to keep order in a population of extreme classes. When Dredd is framed for murder, the city’s Chief Justice, Fargo (Max Von Sydow), and fellow Judge, Hershey (Diane Lane) try to have the case thrown out, but he is sentenced to life imprisonment. While on prison transport, Dredd and fellow criminal Fergee (Rob Schneider) survive a wreck in the scorched remains of our world, known as the Cursed Earth, before learning that another Chief Justice, Griffin (Jurgen Prochnow) has unleashed a once-stopped cloning programme to set himself up as the ruler of the City. Griffin unleashes Dredd’s former friend, psychopath Rico (Armand Assante), to spread chaos and division. And so Dredd must return to Mega City 1 and serve out his own unique brand of justice….
Top-to-bottom, Stallone’s Judge Dredd is balls-out bonkers. Although it has style to spare, and oozes big Hollywood money, the film’s skewed tone and bizarre attempts at comedy within its satirical societal commentary, not to mention its bombastic 90’s action aesthetic, make this a confounding proposition to watch. Part of me sat back and relished in the hubris, the heavy-handed overacting and ridiculously illogical storytelling and enjoyed it for what it was. The other part of me, the part with intelligence, kept wondering exactly how anybody thought making this film this way was a good idea. Judge Dredd wants not for production value – from the set design, the visual effects and Alan Silvestri’s thunderous score, not to mention Gianni Versace’s gorgeous (if entirely impractical) costuming, the film should have been a knockout from the get-go.
But it isn’t. Judge Dredd is hideously malformed, much like several of the characters within it. Destitute in tonal structure, boasting excessive violence (a lot of which is shown off-camera) and a nasty streak of malevolence (Armand Assante chews the scenery and everything in his way to deliver a wild-eyed performance as Rico, and is actually one of the best things in the movie), but weirdly it also goes for juvenile, slapstick comedy, all of which is provided by the asinine Rob Schneider. Entire paragraphs and essays could be written on why Schneider’s role in this film is absolutely odious, due primarily to the actor’s dreadful delivery and penchant for pulling idiotic faces all the time, and you’d not find a Dredd fan (or a fan of cinema) who’d argue with them. Rob Schneider is atrocious, the comic-relief in a film that did not deserve to be so ruinously fumbled. His constant background bleating serves the film nought, only adding slight contrast to Stallone’s mumbling, nigh-incomprehensible delivery of dialogue in scenes where exposition is key.
The film’s catalogue of wasted acting talent runs deep – Max Von Sydow brings an Obi-Wan-like presence to the film (little wonder he practically reprised the role briefly in The Force Awakens) as Fargo, while Diane Lane looks confused about exactly what she’s signed on for as Hershey. In many respects, Hershey’s relationship with Dredd reminds me a lot of a similar one between officers Murphy and Lewis in RoboCop, and to be honest a lot about that relationship signifies similar dispositions in character here. Lane’s friendship – if one can call it that – with Dredd isn’t built on, or even really explained, which is detrimental to the film’s final scene, in which they kiss. Wait… what? German actor Jurgen Prochnow, who has forever carved a niche for himself as a leading screen villain in films such as this one, Robin Hood, and The Replacement Killers, among others, salivates his slimy way through a mediocre character’s ill-timed motivations and illogical leaps in ideology, while capable actress Joan Chen is wasted as one of Griffin’s subordinates. Look quickly for Scottish actor Ewen Bremner (Trainspotting, Pearl Harbor) as a Cursed Earth gang member, and an unbilled James Remar (Sex & The City, Dexter) in a short-lived role of a rioting hoodlum leader.
Fans can caterwaul and claim Stallone did the character a disservice by “unmasking” at various stages of the film (something Dredd in the comics would never do), and they can argue the point of Dredd was utterly missed in Danny Cannon’s laborious directorial style and a tone-deaf screenplay. Those people would be correct. You could also argue that Judge Dredd is a product of its time and that Stallone’s name above the title predicated audiences actually seeing his face (another element as to why Karl Urban’s minor-celebrity status afforded the more recent Dredd to fare much better in this regard) to get their money’s worth. The action sequences are often legitimately exciting, if flatly photographed, while the visual effects teeter on being camp but restraint and canny lighting ensure they still hold up pretty well even by today’s standards.
Explosions and violence shred the screen to pieces as Stallone shoots and punches his way through Mega City 1 and its surrounds, dominating the film simply by virtue of having the camera pointed at him constantly. Exhaustingly obtuse at times, and more often than not entirely unfunny when it’s trying to be hilarious, Judge Dredd’s escapist roots and sly subtext are buried alive and screaming beneath the jackboots of the film’s plot and artifice, suffocating dissection of the underlying message and instating a conveyor belt of fire and death and gratuitous scheming to the point it’s all just noise. Judge Dredd isn’t a great film, but it certainly isn’t a terrible one. Beneath the ill-advised tone and Stallone’s remarkably stiff central performance, the film sputters with brief moments of gleeful abandon. There’s hints of greatness here, momentary glimpses into what might have been had production not been so troubled (reputedly). It’s a shame it all got lost in the kerfuffle of confused creative wrangling, and the point missing the execution.
© 2016, Rodney Twelftree. All rights reserved.