Review: JUDGE DREDD (1995) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Review: JUDGE DREDD (1995)


With DREDD (review coming soon!) currently showing in theaters everywhere, I would like to revisit the first JUDGE DREDD movie that hits the theaters back in 1995. That was like 17 years ago, and that awfully embarrassing big-screen effort still lingered in my mind after such a long period of time. 

Based on the U.K.'s highly-popular and long-running comic book 2000 AD by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra, I remembered how great it used to be when I read them page by page. It was one of the rare comic books I really enjoyed outside of Marvel and DC collections. Then along came Sylvester Stallone and the rest was history. You could say he's the one who single-handedly ruined what would be a memorable production. But thanks to his ego and the typical Hollywood studio system, JUDGE DREDD the movie was a far cry from the beloved comic book I used to read.

The movie begins with a familiar voice narration by none others than the great James Earl Jones himself. According to him, the Earth is pretty much an uninhabitable wasteland (which is known as "Cursed Earth") in the 3rd millennium. Majority of humanity are now resides in a barricaded city block known as Mega-Cities. Traditional law has also been replaced by an introduction of Judges, whose role combines those of police officer, judge, jury and executioner all in one.

The most dedicated and famous "Street Judge" of all is Judge Joseph Dredd (Stallone), who first appeared in a chaos-ridden city, to assist Judge Hershey (Diane Lane) and a young rookie, to end a block war against the armed rebels, lead by an uncredited James Remar. Caught in the crossfire, is Herman Ferguson (Rob Schneider), a hacker recently released from prison. After Dredd manages to eliminate all the rebels in a building trying to kill him, he subsequently arrests Ferguson for hiding and damaging a food dispensing robot. Even though Ferguson confesses he just trying to save his own life, Dredd still sentenced him to five years' imprisonment for tampering with city property.

The story really begins when Rico (Armand Assante), a former Judge turned psychopathic killer, escapes from prison and reclaims his Judge's uniform and "Lawgiver" gun from as well as reactivated a decades-old combat robot to assist him for a "war" he's about to commit. His mission is actually seek revenge against Dredd, who responsible for putting him in the prison. So he disguised as Judge Dredd, and gunned down a news reporter (Mitch Ryan) where the brutal murder is caught in surveillance camera. Dredd becomes a chief suspect, and Hershey is appointed as his defense lawyer for a trial in front of Council Judges, lead by Dredd's mentor Chief Judge Fargo (Max von Sydow) and Judge Griffin (Jurgen Prochnow). Dredd is eventually found guilty based on the DNA evidence. Apparently the "Lawgiver" gun, which encodes the DNA of a wielder, matches perfectly on Dredd's. Dredd knows the evidence is being tampered with, but he remains sentenced to life imprisonment. Prior to that, Fargo is disappointed and decides to step down for his "long walk", a tradition in which a retiring Judge roams into the "Cursed Earth' wasteland "to bring law to the lawless".

With Dredd being transported to prison, it was revealed that Griffin, who actually freed Rico and had him frame Dredd for the murder. Now Fargo succeeds on becoming a Chief Judge and instructs Rico to bring chaos throughout the city.

JUDGE DREDD suffers from a schizophrenic tone. There are times director Danny Cannon is unsure whether he's attempting to reconstruct the supposedly serious tone of JUDGE DREDD into a campy exercise or a mix of both. According to a trivia, director Danny Cannon claimed the final version was completely different from the script he proposed. He also blamed much of the changes was caused by the notoriously-demanding and egoistic Stallone. Whatever the claim is, what we have in this movie appears to be more of a jokey version of JUDGE DREDD.

It's a big mistake, but no mistake is more forgivable than Sylvester Stallone's embarrassingly laughable performance as the title character himself. On the outer look, he has the muscular build and height to make a perfect Judge Dredd appearance. But that was it -- he spends most of his time looking awkward whenever he tries to deliver "serious-looking" performance. His line delivery is even more laughable. The way he grunts the most memorable line in that comic book, "I AM the Law!" at the beginning of the movie is cringeworthy. If that's not insulting enough, he also tries to be sarcastic. I seriously not sure whether I should laugh or felt disgusted when I hear him wisecracks, "I knew you'd say that".

Another mistake he has made is taking off the helmet. I understand that sometimes a true filmmaker should be a slave to the source material, but there are times that certain things need to be retained. Watching a JUDGE DREDD movie where the title character spends most of his time without his helmet on is like watching a BATMAN movie where the Batman is without his mask. No wonder die-hard fans has cried blasphemy for this ill-fated result.

The rest of the supporting actors fares from average to laughably bad performances. Diane Lane is bland as Judge Hershey, and she even had an awkward chemistry with Stallone. Rob Schneider is typically funny as the comic relief here, but he's seriously out of the place for this particular movie. Two veterans, Max von Sydow and Jurgen Prochnow have their fair share of moments here, even though their brief appearances are pretty much forgettable. Of all, only Armand Assante is fun and entertaining to watch for as the over-the-top villain, Rico.

On the technical level, JUDGE DREDD is above-average and you could say some of the money from then-huge $70 million budget is well-spent. Nigel Phelps' impeccable production design of the Mega City has an influential shade of BLADE RUNNER; Emma Porteous's costume design is top-notch, especially with the Judge Dredd's "armour costume" specially designed by the renowned Gianni Versace; and of course Alan Silvestri's pumping score that often lives up the momentum of the movie. Special effects are adequate enough, except for the fake-looking "flying bikes" chase scene. The action, in the meantime, is so-so at best.

Overall, JUDGE DREDD is one of the worst comic-book movie adaptations ever made, and also among Stallone's worst movie in his career (so bad he even earned a Golden Raspberry Award nomination for "Worst Actor"). It's not a surprise that the movie ends up as a huge box-office flop (grossing only a mere $34.6 million).

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