Judge Dredd (1995) / Action-Sci Fi
MPAA Rated: R for violence and some language
Running Time: 96 min.
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Armand Assante, Diane Lane, Rob Schneider, Max Von Sydow, Jurgen Prochnow, Joanna Miles, Joan Chen, Balthazar Getty, James Earl Jones (voice)
Director: Danny Cannon
Screenplay: William Wisher Jr., Steven E. de Souza
Review published April 24, 2006
Warden: "So, tell me, Rico, what's the meaning of life?"
Rico: "It ends."
The above passage of dialogue could just as aptly be applied to answer what the meaning of the movie is.
Judge Dredd is based on the popular British comic book character of the same name, which enjoyed some modest popularity among comic book fans of the 1980s (in the long-running anthology series, "2000 AD") and early 1990s (in Dredd's solo title) in the United States. However, mainstream moviegoers would come into the film completely unfamiliar, which means that the creative forces behind this movie adaptation had been given free reign to change and adapt the character as they sought fit, and judging by the final product, they sought fit quite often, reportedly at Stallone's behest. The core intelligence of the comic series has been sucked out in favor of pyrotechnics, angst-filled confrontations, and plenty of scenery chewing.
Sylvester Stallone (Over the Top, Rambo II) stars as Judge Joseph Dredd, the most notorious law enforcer in the distant future megalopolis of New England's Mega-City One. The city is rife with criminals, so to expedite the process, the police officers are also given the power to judge and execute anyone they see fit under the rule of law. Just the name of Dredd alone is enough to strike fear in the criminals throughout the city for his lack of leniency. However, Dredd gets taken out of the criminal justice picture when he is framed for murder and sent to a life of imprisonment in a prison colony, where he becomes a lightning rod for revenge for all of the criminals that he had put away. Meanwhile, the mastermind behind the frame-job is Rico (Assante, Hoffa), a former Judge with aspirations of changing the nature of things forever, with a legion of clones that do his bidding, putting himself on the top of the proverbial food chain.
So many missteps are taken with the material, it's hard to choose a place to begin. I suppose the first thing that comes to mind is the severe case of that dreaded disease called "Hollywood-itis" that rears its ugly head all too often throughout the course of the film. Primarily, this is achieved in the superfluous characters of the Hollywood staples known as the potential love interest and the comic relief sidekick. Sparks certainly never fly between Stallone and Diane Lane (Six Pack, A Walk on the Moon) (the comic book never featured a love interest), while Rob Schneider's (Down Periscope, Deuce Bigalow) petulant "lovable" assistant character doesn't dish up even one decent laugh. The comic book also never really revealed Judge Dredd's face, other than his mouth and jaw, but Stallone's mug is shown sans helmet and visor far more than not. All of these things weaken what should have been a much more strong and harrowing film into typical formula comforts, resulting in too much familiarity for most audiences to be truly engaged by.
If there is a political statement about society to be made with this material, it must have been jettisoned in pre-production, as Judge Dredd spends more time engaging its hero in standard fisticuffs with a variety of bad guys, allowing Stallone to do his thing in the action department. The dialogue is very pedestrian, particularly annoying through repetition of catchphrases like "I am the Law" and "I knew you'd say that", while never registering the necessary profundity to have us read anything deeper into the whole reason that the film exists. Tension and intrigue exist on on the surface level, while whatever complicated future society depictions are glossed over in favor of very simplistic pious hero vs. maniacal villain clichés.
Dark and violent, Judge Dredd is an unsavory action vehicle for Stallone, and a very pedestrian one at that. Unless you enjoy mindless popcorn action vehicles with little in the way of intellectual interest or emotional investment, your time would be better served watching Dirty Harry and RoboCop back to back. My final judgment: Dredd-ful. (You knew I'd say that).
-- Rebooted in 2012 with Dredd.
©2006 Vince Leo