Thursday, April 3, 2008

4 Color Cinema

Sadly, Anthrax's 'I Am The Law' is not on the soundtrack.  JUDGE DREDD
Judge Dredd

You have to like any comic book movie which starts with a disembodied hand actually flipping through the comic book. I think if something like Iron Man started that way today, we'd have a nerd-riot on our hands.

Anyway, we're treated to a nice prologue about the fall of traditional society and the rise of the Mega-Cities, the first and greatest of all of course being Mega-City One. Dumped into this spiraling urban sprawl is Fergie, a petty criminal who has served his sentence in the Aspen Penal Colony and earned his release. Things don't go so well for the wormy little guy, though, as he is assigned to the Heavenly Haven neighborhood, which just happens to be in the middle of a block war. And when you've got punks shooting each other in the streets, well, you know who comes rolling in: the Judges. Flanked by Judge Hersey and a rookie (who doesn't seem to have what it takes), the legendary lawman Judge Dredd "sentences" all involved (including Fergie, sent back to prison) and quells the riot.

But not all is well in Mega-City One. There's rumblings of corruption amongst the Justice Department, and reporters dog every step the street Judges take. The Department itslef, charged with maintaining both law and order in the city, is being stretched to the limit, as more and more criminals are arming themselves, and they cannot train Judges fast enough -- and those that do have a pretty high mortality rate. The solution seems to present itself with the long lost Janus Project, an experimental attempt to clone Judges from the best cloning stock, which would solve their problems. The High Council is split, but a series of events -- namely, the escape of the murderous ex-Judge Rico, and the murder of a prominent TV news reporter -- forces Dredd to not only clear his own name, but save the city and the Rule of Law.

As a film experience, Judge Dredd is a mixed bag. There's some really well-done aspects, and then some really poor ones. So it's hard to get a good feeling on it. Overall, though, after viewing I was more disappointed than anything else.

Stallone is not bad as Dredd, although we see way too much of his face. That's unavoidable, of course, but it's still pretty overt, at least to anyone who's ever read 2000 AD. Then again, I doubt most of the audience had read the magazine, so I guess that's fair. The cast in general is good, even whiny little Rob Schneider as Fergie -- he's annoying, yes, but that's the point. Max von Sydow is standout as Chief Justice Fargo, and though it's not exactly a role which requires him to really flex his muscles, it's a good performance. Same goes for Diane Lane as Hershey and Armand Asante (!) as Rico.

The production design is also pretty well executed. There's a couple of scenes where Mega-City One looks more like San Angeles from Demolition Man, but that is made up for by the care given elsewhere. The Judges' uniforms look excellent, the best way I can imagine adapting their over-the-top look. Same goes for the Lawgiver sidearms and the Lawmaster bikes, which are gloriously realized. Even little things like the set dressing for the Grand Hall of Justice or the Academy or Aspen Penal Colony is handled with care. And I'd be remiss not to mention the ABC Warrior (obviously meant to be Hammerstein), which lumbers it's way through the film with a ton of presence and menace. I even have a model kit of him (Thanks, Jon!).

But beyond that, the film falls flat. The script plods along, with a lot of setpieces but not a lot of drama or drive. There's tons of cliches, both from the sci-fi and action genres. And eventually the whole thing just comes off the rails and the result is just one big jumble. Fans, such as myself, wanted more Judge action, more of Dredd on the street doing his thing. Nonfans no doubt thought it was a lesser version of Demolition Man, which is funnier and more exciting, despite the smaller budget and lacking this movie's design sense. (The fact that it had Sandra Bullock back when she was hot doesn't hurt either.) I really wanted to like Judge Dredd, and have a good time watching it, but after about the first 25 minutes or so, I'm afraid I just couldn't do either.

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