Judge Dredd

on June 30, 1995 by Pat Dietmeier
   The quixotic attempt by action lunk Sylvester Stallone to alter his all-too-established image as the punch-drunk palooka who played Rocky, Rambo and a dozen minor variations on those personae is one of the remarkable celebrity stories of recent years. First came the misconceived comedies ("Oscar," "Stop! or My Mom Will Shoot"). We appear to be in the middle of the misconceived science fiction phase (remember "Demolition Man"?) in which Sly tries to emulate the Schwarzenegger "Terminator" archetype about 11 years too late.
   Essentially a modified version of "The Punisher"--a comics-based sci-fi vigilante project that Stallone spent years trying to whip into shape with director William Friedkin--"Judge Dredd" tells of that by-now-familiar futureworld in which the law has crumbled, anarchy rules the streets, and mankind's only hope lies in the hands of an overpaid Hollywood superstar with more firepower on hand than the Serbian army and the Michigan Militia combined. Swathed in what looks like a leftover uniform from TV's "Battlestar Galactica," Stallone's Dredd is judge, jury and executioner--a fact stated so emphatically so many times you'd think this marked some kind of a departure from the usual fascist action-hero code of ethics.
   In fact, the only "new" (for Stallone) elements in this Cinergi/Hollywood Pictures effort are all recycled from far better films. There's a hint of "Star Wars" in some of the set design and more than a dollop of "Blade Runner" in a plot that revolves around Stallone's genetically engineered evil twin (Armand Assante), who, like Rutger Hauer in "Runner," may actually be the last "free" (if psychotic) man in an overly regimented society. The theme is as old as "R.U.R."--the turn-of-the-century play that gave the world the word "robot"--but it's still a compelling one. Unfortunately, "Judge Dredd" is a modern action flick, which means it's too busy blowing things up to pause to consider even its own loudly announced thesis.
   It's always interesting at a certain level to watch so much money moving around on-screen in the form of matte shots and CGI effects, but there's nothing here technically that hasn't been done far better elsewhere, often using considerably less. Assante is fine; supporting actresses Diane Lane and Joan Chen are absolutely wasted; and comic sidekick Rob Schneider gives what could be the single most obnoxious mainstream performance of the year. Stallone exists in a realm beyond analysis of his acting skills, and he's beginning to exist in a realm beyond analysis of his appeal. After "Demolition Man" and "Judge Dredd," he would be well-advised to stay there before choosing another astronomically budgeted but minusculely plotted exercise like this.    Starring Sylvester Stallone, Diane Lane and Armand Assante. Directed by Danny Cannon. Written by William Wisher and Steven E. De Souza. Produced by Charles M. Lippincott and Beau E.L. Marks. A Buena Vista release. SF. Rated R for continuous violent action. Running time: 91 min.
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