A “good” film in the sense that it is slickly well-made and populated with name-brand talent, Danny Cannon’s “Judge Dredd” is also a morally and politically suspect picture. Call it “Triumph of the Swill.”
In a recurrence of one of Sylvester Stallone’s favorite propaganda tactics, this new movie version of “Judge Dredd” inverts the satire of an acclaimed comic-book series, transforming it into an elaborate cheap-thrills vehicle for Stallone’s hard-nosed views on social order. This time, he’s not so much cloaking himself in the American flag as he is play-acting the notion of what a wonderful world it would be if only someone could just dispose of all the human vermin.
“Judge Dredd,” which originated in England almost a generation ago, tells of a futuristic civilization where the functions of the police and the judicial system have been merged - sort of like Jack Palance in “One Man Jury” (1978), but with an authority beyond vigilantism, plus a dense veneer of science fiction. The Dredd character and his colleagues are hardly pitched as role models, at least not until one gets to the movie version.
Stallone, in practically a replay of his zerotolerance role in “Cobra” (1986), plays the title “hero” with enough teeth-grinding selfseriousness to make one think he were attempting “El Cid.” In production notes, Stallone asserts that “Judge Dredd is a compilation of all the qualities of the perfect law machine … a walking judicial system.”
Scenarists William Wisher and Steven E. deSouza tell of a cunning plot to take over a great (that is, overpopulated and chaotic) city sometime in the distant future. Corrupt politico Jurgen Prochnow has lawman Dredd framed for murder, and psycho-mutant henchman Armand Assante lets his own ambitions get the better of him. Dredd’s mentor Max von Sydow frets helplessly. Director Cannon seems to encourage overacting from all but Stallone, who gets Dredd’s dire stoicism just about right.
It’s all silly as heck but exciting enough, if one plays the game and admires the pageant of high-octane special effects. But the film’s intended shock value seems insignificant by comparison with the lingering shudder brought on by its law-and-order militance.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: “Judge Dredd” Location: Lincoln Heights, North Division and Coeur d’Alene cinemas Credits: Directed by Danny Cannon; starring Sylvester Stallone, Diane Lane, Armand Assante, Joan Chen Running time: 1:32 Rating: R