Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Thursday, August 13, 2015


Superhero movies were different in the nineties. The huge success of Tim Burton’s “Batman” proved that comic book adaptations could be box office successes. However, Burton’s film was eccentric and proved difficult to emulate. Furthermore, many of the truly iconic superheroes were tangled up in legal snafus. This is how “Tank Girl” ended up with a movie before “Spider-Man.” Thus, many of the characters who did get film adaptions weren’t from the big two of DC and Marvel. Pulp era stalwarts like the Shadow and the Phantom or indie publications like the Rocketeer and the Mask proved easier to license. Falling in here somewhere is “Judge Dredd.” A popular and long-running character in the UK, Dredd has never caught on much in the States. This is mostly because of the 1995 film adaptation, starring Mr. Stallone. A critical and financial dud, the film stained the property in American eyes and quickened Sly’s descent from the A-list.

In the post-apocalyptic future, Mega-City One is one of the last bastions of civilization. Barely. The crowded streets are choked with crime and unhappy citizens. The only thing holding society together is the Judges: Super-cops that are trained to be judge, jury, and executioner. The strictest and best of the judges is Dredd. Meanwhile, a mysterious man named Rico escapes prison. He frames Dredd for murder, forcing the officer of order to clear his name. Rico, it turns out, is Dredd’s brother and both are the result of cloning. While the officer is exiled, his brother wreaks havoc in the city. Dredd must return to Mega-City, clear his name, and stops Rico’s villainous plot.

Die hard fans of the original “Judge Dredd” comic books were quick to criticize the film adaptations. I’ve only thumbed through a few issues myself but even I realize the movie is far removed from the source material. The satire is replaced with campy humor. The subversive sci-fi plot is replaced with a generic good-guy-vs-bad-guy scenario. The movie has little interest in the comic’s world-building. Infamously, Stallone’s Dredd takes off his helmet within minutes and keeps it off. Comic book Dredd never removes his helmet. Make no mistake though, “Judge Dredd” is a big budget comic book flick. The set design is expansive and impressive. Mega-City, though obviously indebted to “Blade Runner,” looks fantastic. The score, provided by Alan Silvestri, is fantastic, with bold, recognizable themes. The film’s budget is right on-screen in its fantastic production design. Even the Judges’ uniforms aren’t bad. Yeah, the codpiece and spandex aren’t flattering but the helmets and shoulder-pads look pretty good.

In interviews, Sly has admitted that everyone making the film had difficulty deciding on a tone. Indeed, “Judge Dredd” snaps back and forth between goofball comedy and typical action scenes. Like many attempts to adapt comic books, the film ramps up the campy jokes. Dredd is given the catchphrase of “I knew you would say that.” Early on, we are introduced to a robot peddling “recycled food.” The absurdity of the Judges’ absolute law is noted occasionally, such as when Dredd blows up a guy’s car. Too frequently, the humor becomes broad and obnoxious. Rob Schneider plays Fergee, Dredd’s comic relief sidekick. As we would all soon realize, Rob Schnieder is annoying. The character does not help the hero’ out and never made me laugh. A lengthy sequence in the middle is devoted to the Angel Gang, cannibal rednecks living in the wastelands. These guys are also broad, goofy, and overly jokey. Mostly, the film’s attempts at humor come off as hammy and far too goofy.

As an action flick, the film fares slightly better. The grim sequences of Rico’s vengeance, which involves blowing up a shit ton of innocent people, contrast badly with the humor. However, when the focus is one Dredd and his allies leaping around and shooting people, it’s alright. The opening shoot-out in the apartment building is good. The scuffle in the wastelands with the mutants and other cops is solid enough. A hover-bike chase through the city works reasonably well. One pursuer being caught up in a holographic advertisement is clever. The finale, where Dredd confronts his brother, positively recalls “Demolition Man.” If nothing else, the film features some cool special effects. The ABC Warrior, another “2000 AD” character, is brought to life with some fantastic robotic effects. I even like the white, slimy half-formed clones that put in an appearance.

A major problem facing “Judge Dredd” is its lack of a decent villain. Armand Assante, who could pass for Stallone’s brother if you squint, overdoes it as Rico. And not in a fun way. Assante is convincing as a psychopath. Combined with his theatrical acting, it leaves the audience with a bad taste in their mouths. The character is mostly kind of lame too. Why, oh why, couldn’t they have used Judge Death instead? There’s some talent in the supporting cast though. Max von Sydow puts in an appearance as Dredd’s mentor, bringing plenty of gravity to a flimsy part. Diane Lane is decent as Hershey, the female lead. Though the attempted romance between her and Sly goes nowhere. Jurgen Prochnow is also decent as a higher ranking judge plotting against Dredd.

“Judge Dredd” is never quite satisfying but just entertaining enough to squeak by. Completely divorced of its source material, it’s a mildly amusing action riff. Stallone has some campy fun delivering silly one-liners, while shouting and gunning. The special effects and set design are fantastic. If the film had been any longer, it probably would have clatter apart from its conflicting tones. Coming in at 96 minutes, it generates enough good will to keep the audience from hating it. By the same accord, it’s unlikely to be anyone first pick for either a Stallone movie or a “Judge Dredd” adaptation. [6/10]

[] Frank Stallone or Frank Stallone-esque Inspirational Music
[X] Incapacitates or Kills Someone With His Body
[X] Shows Off Buffness
[X] Social Outcast [Loner Future Cop]
[X] Sweaty, Veiny Yelling

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