Directed by Danny Cannon. Starring Sylvester Stallone, Armand Assante, Diane Lane, Rob Schneider, Joan Chen, Jurgen Prochnow, Max Von Sydow. (1995, R, 96 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., July 7, 1995
Set in a distant, post-apocalyptic future, this feature debut from director Cannon does a surprisingly adequate job of capturing both the look and feel of Britain's long-running Judge Dredd/2000 A.D. comic series. As 23rd-century lawman Dredd, Stallone is in fine form, using his perpetual scowl and wisecracking, gravelly voice to good effect: It's the one recent role I can think of where these natural Stallone traits haven't acted as a liability. Plotwise, the film sticks closely to the comic book: In the future, the criminal justice system has failed to preserve order, and so the police force of Mega-City 1 has been upgraded to include “the Judges,” who act as judge, jury, and executioners on the spot. When Dredd is framed for murder by a power-hungry rival, he must take the law into his own hands and ferret out his betrayers before the law he loves so much is reduced to anarchy. Cannon's take on Judge Dredd is essentially a thrill-a-minute joyride, and as such, it contains some of the most glaring plot holes I've seen in years. One such foul-up revolves around an army of deadly clones that arrives in the third reel and then vanishes -- no explanation given -- from the film moments later. There are several others, as well. All trivialities like plot logic aside, though, Judge Dredd comes off much better than anticipated. The set design and effects are genuinely breathtaking, evoking some of the “gosh, wow” sense of wonder not freely elicited since the last LucasFilm shoot-'em-up. As mentioned before, Stallone's moribund thespian skills actually add to the character of Dredd; anyone familiar with the comic book knows Dredd's perpetual grimace on sight, and Stallone plays up the more fascistic aspects of the character. Saturday Night Live's Schneider, as Judge Dredd's sidekick Fergie, provides a welcome bit of comic relief without going to extremes, and Assante is nicely over the top as Rico, Dredd's evil twin. All in all a better-than-average adaptation of a way-above-average comic. Now then, where's Judge Death?