Judge Dredd, the ultimate tough-as-nails lawman from comic books, makes it to the silver screen. Big comic book fan that I am, my first response was, this better be good, as a matter of fact, this better be awesome, or it's going to fall flat on its face.
Review by SAndman
July 8, 2009
Director: Danny Cannon
characters: John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra
story: Michael De Luca and William Wisher Jr.
screenplay: William Wisher Jr. and Steven E. de Souza
Sylvester Stallone as Judge Dredd
Armand Assante as Rico
Diane Lane as Judge Hershey
Max von Sydow as Judge Fargo
Jurgen Prochnow as Judge Griffin
Rob Schneider as Fergie
Judge Dredd: I am the law! Put down your weapons and prepare to be judged.
Needless to say, my reservations turned out to be justified. The studio basically took a great character and class-act story and tore it down to a pitiable less-than-mediocre movie. Ugh!
In the third millennium the earth was devastated by ecological and political upheaval. Climate changed and the whole planet turned into a blasted scorched region called "the cursed earth". Men were crammed into a few Mega Cities while those who remained outside became known as "the lawless". A case in point is the infamous Angel family (check out the cyborg Mean!).
Soon the law inside the cities collapsed as bands of criminals prowled the streets. At that point the new type of law enforcement came center stage - a highly trained elite force called the Judges. They acted as the police, jury, and executioner.
As the movie opens a riot is underway. A city block is taken by criminals who are shooting up the adjacent streets and buildings. Judge Hershey and a judge who goes by a rookie arrive at the scene and are presently pinned down by the gun fire. They call for reinforcement. Judge Dredd arrives at the scene and promptly pacifies the rioters.
However, not everyone is happy by this turn of events. A news anchor reporting from the scene questions the excessive use of force and makes a pointed comment whether this kind of policing is but a shape of things to come - state oppression perpetrated on the public by the chosen few.
The Council of Judges, the supreme authority in Mega City, dismiss these accusations, though they strike an unpleasant cord in the minds of some members of the council, especially Judge Fargo, Dredd's mentor and friend, and appoint Dredd a post at the Judge Academy where he is to teach ethics to the students.
While teaching class at the academy Dredd expounds on his view of the role of a judge. The lecture provides a glimpse into his mindset. Judge Hershey, who overhears his lecture, is appalled. She reproaches Dredd for his austere outlook. She thinks Dredd is wrong in believing that he had to sever himself from all human contact in order to serve a higher purpose - that of upholding law and order.
However, the events that unfold soon put Dredd's devotion to law to a test. The news anchor is assassinated in his apartment and DNA testing points to Judge Dredd. He is brought before the Council of Judges and tried. The Council is facing difficult options because the future of the law in Mega City is riding with this case.
But the truth could be even uglier. Dredd soon realizes that his only hope to vindicate himself, and preserve the rule of law in Mega City, rests with the so-called Janus project.
Okay, that was the better part of the movie. But everything else speaks of such tasteless and dim-witted handling of the material of which none of the actors had either understanding or preference for. The relations and conflicts between the characters follow the same million times seen boring predictable patterns.
The characters come across as shallow as it gets. Big shiny hero turned outcast turned avenger turned savior. The nerdy sidekick and the idealistic gal in uniform who dotes on Dredd. The wise and benevolent fatherly figure who takes the heat for Dredd and eventually gets to save the life of his best student. The psychopathic villain with (check this out) a pronounced lisp. I don't know what rationale went into this but that has to be one of Armand Assante's worst parts ever. But what aggravates me the most is Judge Dredd's uniform.
His outfit is absolutely hilarious, brash plastic insignia both awfully tacky and utterly unconvincing, knobby puff-breasted eagle perched on his shoulder, knee-tall thick-soled boots, gold chain running from his collar to the perky badge on his chest. He looks positively camp. Any creepy homophobe's image of any gay bar's patron afflicted with hopelessly bad taste in clothes.
On top of it, the Dredd in the movie takes his helmet off! The whole point of the character from the comic books is that he never takes the helmet off. He is always this mysterious hunk, with a jaw so chiseled that it looked like you could use it to smash through a concrete wall, who mercilessly dispenses justice to anyone crazy enough to mess with the law in his back yard. And the mask thing was part of his mystique. But no, they just had to go and blow it.
And it doesn't help resorting to some traditional science fiction motifs involving post-apocalypse and dystopia. A lousy movie is just that. And there's no saving it. The best thing you can say of Judge Dredd is that once you've seen you'll have no trouble forgetting it.
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