Guilty Pleasures: “Judge Dredd”

July 20, 2012

[For my review of the 2012 version starring Karl Urban click here]

God help me, but I love this movie.

I can’t really explain it. There’s just something comforting about this mid-‘90s slab of cheese. It’s like Taco Bell: you’re fully aware that by any objective measure it’s utterly terrible, and yet it seems to put so little effort into being good that you just think, “Eh. It’s not like it failed…” From a cinematic standpoint, it’s a nice time capsule of a curious period, when action movies were struggling to redefine themselves. The era of ‘roided-up monstrosities had pretty much ended with Terminator 2, and now both Stallone and Schwarzenegger found their stars on the wane as audiences embraced everyman heroes like Bruce Willis and Harrison Ford. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s response would be to punch an alligator, play the Terminator again, and then go into politics. Stallone’s response was to make increasingly rococo pictures starting with Demolition Man and continuing with Judge Dredd.

Still, there’s a lot I find irresistible about this very, very bad movie. Such as…

* Stallone blithely craps all over the source material:  Judge Dredd is a dark, antiheroic, dystopian graphic novel character. Director Danny Cannon was such a fan of the comic he made his own Judge Dredd movie poster when he was a kid, so imagine how thrilled he must have been when he was given the opportunity to bring his beloved character to life. Now imagine the soul-crushing frustration he must have felt when Stallone swaggered onto the production and said, “Bleaw…this needsaby funnier…oeh?” And suddenly the thing turned into a doofy buddy comedy about a pompous blowhard who swaggers around like Apocalypse Now’s Colonel Kilgore’s mall-cop little brother.

* Judge Dredd’s uniform: I mean, look at it. It’s what Brett Favre would wear if he was a Latin American dictator. To make matters worse, it was designed by Gianni Versace. People spend ridoinkulous amounts of money on Versace designs to not look idiotic, and yet he came up with this?

This is only costume you will NEVER see at Comic Con

Unfortunately, Versace was murdered by a low-rent joyboy shortly after this movie came out, so we’ll never know if he did, in fact, just snicker to one of his lackeys and say, “Let’s totally fuck with these people.”

* Armand Assante: Yeah, he plays the main bad guy, Judge Dredd’s clone, but that’s all plot, so don’t worry about it. The important thing is that Assante does something very, very strange with his performance. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure he got the script from his agent, looked it over and then said, “Yeah, I can work with this. Uh…I’m gonna need a lot of blow.” And then he showed up on set, railed to the gills, and delivered the hyper-manic bug-eyed performance of his career.  The  crowning moment, though, must be his argument with Stallone, which turns into a veritable symphony of unintelligibility (special attention must be paid to the way Assante spits the word “law” like he’s barfing the word as if it was yesterday’s taco platter.

* The production design: Judge Dredd opens with a tremendous shot of a vast, cramped, crowded city. We follow the progress of a shuttle as it descends from the clouds, past the wealthy, gilded upper levels of society, then into dark, violent, squalorous slums at street-level. It’s an endlessly intriguing world, and we spend most of the movie indoors in a series of mostly-identical rooms.  But, you know, that great cityscape is always out there, and it’s fun to imagine its possibilities when we get another scene in the fucking locker room.

Presented to the Academy for its consideration come Oscar time…

* Massive freaking guns: Seriously, there is no gun in this movie that doesn’t take two hands to wield and all of them fire on full-auto. Because why use one bullet if you can use 50 to 100. Oh, and aiming is for pussies.

* Rob Schneider:  Because let’s face it: what’s the point of having a tense scene if you can’t use the yappy comic stylings of the former copier guy to totally deflate it? This, too, is reputed to be Stallone’s idea, who was so impressed with him in Demolition Man he told the producers, “Oooeh…weh ned Rob Schneidah to be wah sahkick aand be all funny eeeh.” And the money men made it happen, while Danny Cannon presumably curled up in a fetal position and wept.

* Joan Chen (and her cleavage): Joan Chen plays some evil scientist introduced midway through the movie and does absolutely nothing substantial. And you know what? I am perfectly fine with that, because I forgot just how migraine-inducingly beautiful she is. Just so we get the point, the wardrobe department puts her in some weird latex outfit that puts her chesticles front and center in every shot. Now, it’s easy to write this off as a cheap pander to male and lesbian viewers, but I like to think it was a part of a Cannon’s subversive plan to distract the viewer from how bad the rest of the movie is. And it works.

This…eh…er…I just forgot my name…

* Max Von Sydow: Yes, one of the titans of cinema has a prominent role in this movie and most of them were opposite Stallone. What do you want to bet he and Cannon spent many, many hours in dank bars trying to drink away this horrible experience and muttering, “I feel so…dirty!”

Oh well, it’s still a fun flick.

One comment

  1. i guess that’s why they’re remaking it

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