“Judge Dredd” Stars Sylvester Stallone suffers from cheap sets and costumes

Philly.com suggest that “You better hope Dredd doesn’t pull you over some dark night for a broken taillight. Because this motorcycle cop dispenses justice with a strong degree of finality.” Humorous as that might sound the author was somewhat serious.

The 1995 adaptation of the British sci-fi comic book series, “Judge Dredd,” hits Blu-ray for the first time. Judge Dredd stars Sylvester Stallone in the title role and Armand Assante as his arch nemesis, Rico. The film suffers from cheap looking sets and costumes, as well as lazy storytelling. One of its only saving graces is a funny performance by Rob Schneider as an ex-con who quickly gets into more trouble. The rest of the film is a mess of sci-fi and comic book movie cliches that have been done to death (and much better) in tons of other films.

There’s no doubt Stallone has made some real turkeys in his career. Judge Dredd may not be his worst, but I find it one of his most puzzling. Simply put, he does not fit the role at all. One thing about the character of Judge Dredd is that he is supposed to be unemotional. He only knows the law, and that is the only thing he follows. Stallone was not able to turn off the emotion in his voice, in his eyes (which are never seen in the print version), or in his overall demeanor for this film. So when another character asks him if he feels anything, it’s hard to believe him when he says no. Still, it might have all worked better if the film was not so cheesy.

Perhaps Stallone was bitten by the sci-fi bug, having appeared in the far superior Demolition Man two years earlier. The plots of the two films even have some similarities. In both, Stallone plays a cop wrongly convicted of a crime who is forced to take on an escaped con whose goal is controlling the city. Unlike Demolition Man’speaceful San Angeles, Judge Dredd’s Megacity is a violent, overcrowded cesspool. It is so overcrowded that there is no time for lengthy trials of the many criminals that plague the city. The “judges” have the power to arrest, try, and convict someone on the spot. It’s an environment Judge Dredd thrives in. He wants nothing more in life than to uphold the law.

Dredd’s attitude changes after he’s framed for the murders of a prominent reporter and his wife. Dredd finds himself on the other side of the law, fighting for his innocence. Everyone turns against him except his partner Judge Hershey (Diane Lane) and Chief Justice Fargo (Max Von Sydow). Fargo stands up for Dredd, but is forced to retire in exchange for sparing Dredd’s life. For reasons that are not fully explained in the film, Fargo is cast out of society for his “long walk” to the Cursed Earth, a barren and inhospitable land. Dredd finds himself being transported to prison with a group of violent criminals and Fergee (Schneider), a petty criminal Dredd had just sentenced to five years in prison.

Had Judge Dredd exploited the buddy aspect of the film between Stallone and Schneider, it might have been a better movie. The unlikely duo works well together (Schneider was also in Demolition Man, but with far more limited screen time). Schneider’s main purpose in the film seems to be for comic relief (he certainly doesn’t have anything to do with the actual plot), but he is a welcome presence. His imitations of Dredd and commentary on their circumstances are pretty funny. However, the film focuses more on a lame plot that has to do with corruption, genetic manipulation, and cloning. It’s not very interesting, and I found myself not caring about the outcome. Armand Assante (whose first starring role was in Stallone’s 1978Paradise Alley) gives an over-the-top performance as the villain Rico that comes across as more annoying than entertaining. It’s not his fault. It’s more that he is trying hard to do something with very thin material.

If there’s anything easy to recommend about Judge Dredd, it’s the Blu-ray presentation. The standard DVD release was a non-anamorphic disaster. Now the 17-year-old film looks awesome, with a 1080p transfer that truly adds depth and clarity. Having seen the old DVD several times, I was pleasantly surprised by the great level of detail, especially in the actors’ faces, now visible. Black levels are deep but crush is never an issue. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack is just as impressive. The action scenes make good use of the surround channels, with gunfire zipping all around. The dialogue is always clear as a bell above the ruckus. Alan Silvestri’s score (one of the film’s best elements) is also well balanced between the front and surround channels.

There is one “new” special feature, a vintage featurette called “Stallone’s Law: The Making of Judge Dredd” that wasn’t included on the old DVD. The 20 minute piece is the standard mix of film clips, cast and crew interviews, and behind-the-scenes footage. The fun aspect is that Stallone himself hosts the piece. It’s funny hearing him say he’s never done a film like this, consideringDemolition Man was only two years before. The only other feature is the theatrical trailer.

Judge Dredd feels like a movie aimed at 10-year-olds, but it’s too violent for young kids. The story lacks interest and the performances are uninspired (except for Schneider). I can’t help wishing I was watching a much better movie when sitting through Judge Dredd.

In the movies, the old saying goes, some stars wear the hat. And sometimes, the hat wears them.

Say what you want about Sylvester Stallone’s kitschy 1995 turn as a futuristic comic-book judge-jury-executioner in “Judge Dredd,” but the dude wore the helmet. Karl Urban replaces him in the new “Dredd,” and, frankly, the helmet wears Karl.

He never takes the thing off. It closes off his performance and masks his charisma. We see only his scowling jaw and hear his hissed one-liners as he chews out rookie judge-jury-executioner (Olivia Thirlby) for forgetting to wear hers.

The movie, based on the comic-book character Judge Joseph Dredd, is set in a future in which much of America is irradiated and 800 million people are crammed into MegaCity, the concrete metropolis that stretches from Boston to Washington. Tens of thousands of people are packed into mega high-rises, and many of them live at the mercy of mega criminals.

Judges like Dredd are all that stand in the way of anarchy. They’re wired-in, high-tech hunter-prosecutor-killers, men and women who solve (sort of) crimes, catch criminals and dole out punishment on the spot. The death penalty is their favorite.

There’s a new drug making the rounds. There always is. It’s called Slo Mo, and Ma-Ma is the drug lord who has it. Lena Headey (“300”) plays her in a performance that begins and ends with the flashy scar-riddled makeup. When Dredd and judge-in-training Anderson (Thirlby) nab one of Ma-Ma’s thugs (Wood Harris), you know that this means war.

The 3D in “Dredd” is used to greatest effect in slow-motion shootings, impalings and throat slashings — blood-on-the-lens stuff. The movie’s nasty villain is poorly drawn, however. Headey just isn’t big enough in persona, performance and presence to suggest a murderous monster who has ruthlessly slashed and intimidated her way to the top.

Thirlby is sensitive and funny when she has to be, but needs more to do. And Urban — so droll as Dr. McCoy in the “Star Trek” reboot, so sinister as Black Hat in “Priest,” so worthy a foe for Bruce Willis in “Red” — is lost behind that big helmet. That help makes this mega-violent satire of MegaCity mega-boring.

Contributors Blu-ray Review:Judge Dredd & D. Chandler


3 Responses to "“Judge Dredd” Stars Sylvester Stallone suffers from cheap sets and costumes"

  1. Chaz Lipp   September 22, 2012 at 1:23 am

    As and editor for Blogcritics.org I can confirm that paragraphs 2-9 here are ripped off word-for-word from Sherry Lipp’s 9/20 review of Judge Dredd Blu-ray – http://blogcritics.org/video/article/blu-ray-review-judge-dredd/

    • guardian   September 22, 2012 at 9:13 am

      Changes have been made and an email has been sent to the editor of blogcritics.org

  2. Janice D.   September 22, 2012 at 12:09 am

    This review or Judge Dredd was stolen from Blogcritics.org

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