There are times when, as a viewer of films, you might look back upon years gone by and suspect that, in hindsight, your opinion might have been overly negative. It's these long, dark tea times of the soul that will often have you reach for a DVD (or LoveFilm account) and order up some old movie to “just check” if it really was as bad as you previously suspected.
Judge Dredd is one of those films. With years of distance and, perhaps, the days of comic-book collecting behind you, the average geek might feel inclined to just give it one more chance… It’s a fatal mistake to make. Hit the jump to find out why:
Judge Dredd, for those of you who are not comics fans, is a fascistic, clone super cop, who prowls the mean streets of Mega City One, which covers the whole eastern seaboard of the United States after World War III. Dredd, as a property, became famous in the pages of 2000 AD, written with a sharp anti-establishment vibe, a neat line in satirical humour and heaps of ultra violence by John Wagner and Pat Mills.
If any film captured the feel of Dredd before the official version's eventual release, it was Paul Verhoeven's Robocop. It’s clear that Verhoeven had a better handle on the character than this film's director: Danny Cannon.
Cannon's version sees Stallone's Dredd framed for the murder of a pro-democracy reporter. He, along with fellow "Judge" Diane Lane and “comedy” sidekick Rob Schneider, must find out who is behind the plot and clear their names. Even before you get to the comparisons with the comic itself, Dredd is a horrifically-dull cop thriller. A film so convoluted, and yet predictable, that even without the scifi trappings to add some mild intrigue to the story (Dredd is framed using a gun that only works with his DNA), the bad guys are obvious from the moment they appear on the screen; while their motives are ill conceived and, frankly, lack any kind of true threat to overcome.
Stallone is at his most unintelligible as Dredd, barely able to say a single word that doesn’t have you reaching for the subtitle button, which, if you’re lucky, sits right next to the mute button for when Schneider opens his mouth. The action is uninspiring, poorly shot and thanks to some obvious studio interference and bad editing, one sequence manages to completely forget a horde of emerging clones.
For the comic fans out there, the crimes this film commits are even more heinous than simply being dull. Dredd, as a character, is an irredeemable, stoic anti hero; a character you’re supposed to loathe, yet respect when he pulls out the ultra violence. This Dredd is a hard ass who, thanks to his redemptive journey, sees that the law must be interpreted and not seen as an absolute, softening his outlook and becoming a better man. Err… no…
The film is not without its good points, even in this dire load. Diane Lane looks hot and does her best to carry a part so lightweight it almost floats off in the studio air conditioning. For the most part, Mega City One is well realised in the FX department, until the street level reveals itself to be one single set, shot from three different angles. Max Von Sydow and Jürgen Prochnow bring some actual acting chops to the cast, even if they are given little to do beyond deliverer huge lumps of exposition to keep the story moving.
In the end, Judge Dredd is a film of lost potential in every way. A film that could have been Blade Runner meets Commando, or Logan's Run without the post-60s free-love vibe, but instead what we get is 97 minutes of Stallone’s ego battling with the directors inexperience. The result? One huge misfire.
This court is adjourned!