Judge Dredd (1995)
Release Date: June 30th, 1995 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Danny Cannon Actors: Sylvester Stallone, Armand Assante, Rob Schneider, Jurgen Prochnow, Max von Sydow, Diane Lane, Joan Chen, Joanna Miles, Balthazar Getty, Ewen Bremner
n the third millennium, the world changed. Climate and nations were all in upheaval as the earth was transformed into a poisonous, scorched desert called “The Cursed Earth.” Here, roving bands of street savages created violence beyond the control of the justice system. Law and order collapsed, made worse by overpopulation and widespread discontent. With this chaos came extreme class divides, where elite forces put the “Judges” into power – highly trained soldiers wth the authority to police, review, and then sentence (typically with execution) any perpetrator, on the spot, to streamline the process of cleaning up the mayhem.
As a block war is in progress in Mega City I, reformed convict and hacker Herman “Fergie” Ferguson (Rob Schneider) tries to enter his newly assigned halfway home. But it’s currently in the process of housing heavily armed gangster squatters engaged in a shootout with a squadron of Judges. When Street-Judge Joseph Dredd (Sylvester Stallone), the most feared of them all, arrives on the scene, he singlehandedly clears the area – but not before arresting the innocent Fergie and sentencing him to five years in the Aspen Penal Colony for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. “I am the law!”
As a typical dystopian future full of oppressive governance and oppressive technology, “Judge Dredd” doesn’t present an entirely original premise or environment. It’s something of a mix of “Blade Runner” and “Demolition Man” and “Total Recall,” as well as countless other action-oriented sci-fi extravaganzas. Curiously, the media still holds considerable persuasion over the citizens of the Megacities, as if to suggest that corruption and unfairness is potentially correctable (as well as serving as a nod to “Robocop’s” ingenious acknowledgement of information dissemination). But there’s still fun to be found in Stallone’s cheesy one-liners, the frequency of shootouts and high-octane adventures, and the unavoidable sense that Dredd will always win out, even when he’s framed for murder and sent to Aspen himself. The film most definitely does not take itself too seriously.
Unfortunately, Stallone’s larger-than-life portrayal really should take itself more seriously, to balance out the silliness, even if it fits with his brand of hero. Compounding this to a disappointing degree is Schneider in a sizable supporting role. He’s a sidekick and a representative for the angst of the common man, but he’s also a source of continual annoyance. He’s supposed to complement Dredd’s expressionless, unfeeling visage, but his relentless comic relief tends to simply take away from the excitement; ultimately, his presence is inconsequential to the narrative. And with Diane Lane as an additional sidekick and love interest (she even engages in a catfight with evil scientist Joan Chen [as Ilsa Hayden]), Schneider’s turn grows even more pointless.
But “Judge Dredd” does accomplish numerous visual feats, from a monstrous bodyguard droid to the gruesome makeup effects for the denizens of the Cursed Earth to the flying car chases across the neon cityscapes (serving as something of a precursor to the superiorly designed “Minority Report” and “The Fifth Element”). Plus, the action and fight scenes are nicely paced and routinely amusing. The scheming behind Dredd’s wrongful conviction isn’t terribly original, however, while the various villains are all stereotypical, wide-eyed, raving lunatics. But the movie moves along quite swiftly, which is always a welcome element in a frivolous sci-fi thriller (even if this is due to extensive cutting, which finds several transitions feeling hollow or abrupt).
– Mike Massie