Opening moments, while highly reminiscent of “Blade Runner,” are nonetheless impressive. Mega-City One, built on the former New York City, is presented as a sprawling metropolis of towering spires and flying vehicles whose population of 65 million is threatened by teeming criminality at the street level. North American life in the 22nd century is confined to three such over-populated zones , because the remainder of the land, as an uncredited James Earl Jones intones over an opening scroll-up, has turned into a cursed, uninhabitable desert.
A Buena Vista release from Hollywood Pictures of an Andrew G. Vajna presentation of an Edward R. Pressman/Cinergi production in association with Charles M. Lippincott. Produced by Lippincott, Beau E.L. Marks. Executive producers, Vajna, Pressman. #Directed by Danny Cannon. Screenplay, William Wisher, Steven E. de Souza, story by Michael De Luca, Wisher, based on the Judge Dredd characters owned by Fleetway Publications Ltd. and created by John Wagner, Carlos Ezquerra. Camera (Technicolor, Panavision widescreen), Adrian Biddle; editors, Alex Mackie, Harry Keramidas; film editor, Jeremy Gibbs; music, Alan Silvestri; production design, Nigel Phelps; supervising art director, Les Tomkins; art direction, Kevin Phipps, Don Dossett; set decoration, Peter Young; costume design, Emma Porteous; “Judge Dredd” armor costume design, Gianni Versace; sound (Dolby SR), Chris Munro; sound design, Leslie Shatz; visual effects supervisor, Joel Hynek; visual effects producer, Diane Pearlman; visual effects, Mass.Illusion; computer animation, Kleiser-Walczak Construction Co.; associate producers, Tony Munafo, Susan Nicoletti; assistant director, Chris Newman; second unit director, Beau Marks. Reviewed at the Cinerama Dome, L.A., June 27, 1995. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 96 min. Judge Dredd … Sylvester Stallone Rico … Armand Assante Judge Hershey … Diane Lane Fergie … Rob Schneider Ilsa … Joan Chen Judge Griffin … Jurgen Prochnow Judge Fargo … Max Von Sydow McGruder … Joanna Miles Olmeyer … Balthazar Getty Crammed with enough special effects for another “Star Wars” trilogy and utterly undeveloped beyond its comic book origins, “Judge Dredd” is a thunderous, unoriginal futuristic hardware show for teenage boys. Unfortunately, the R rating will somewhat hamper full penetration of this expensive spectacle’s potential audience, and heavy-artillery competition from several pictures with softer ratings and similar audience appeal will leave this nonstop actioner in the B.O. mid-zone domestically. Much of this will be made up overseas, however, as this is virtually the ideal picture for the mass public in territories that like their films American, dumb and dubbed.
Combating the anarchy are elite lawmen, known as judges, who mete out instant justice as they patrol the city on their airborne bikes. The most feared among them is the infamous Dredd (Sylvester Stallone), an emotionless authoritarian who knows a criminal when he sees one and has a stock sneering response whenever a suspect protests his innocence: “I knew you’d say that.”
It’s all in a day’s work for Dredd until arch-fiend Rico (Armand Assante) escapes from the high-security Aspen Penal Colony and returns to seek revenge on the man who sent him up and to escalate Mega-City violence to record levels. DNA plays a major role in law enforcement and criminal detection in this society, and the men’s positions are reversed when, by a shrewd trick, Rico gets Dredd convicted of murder and sent up on a life sentence.
Fortunately for the movie andfor the fate of civilization, Dredd manages to escape, along with comic relief Rob Schneider. Final half-hour charts his assault on the citadel and attempt to stop the crazed Rico, who has killed the entire ruling council, as well as many judges, and is in the midst of replacing them with clones spawned from his DNA.
Part of the problem from the outset is that one doesn’t know what to think of the government for which Dredd works and of the judges’ summary approach to their jobs. The criminals (led by an uncredited James Remar) are portrayed as scuzzy lowlifes to be sure, but the ruling structure is presented visually as thoroughly totalitarian with Nazi overtones, from the Gianni Versace-designed centurionlike outfits and black eagle-shaped headquarters to the German accent of ruling council turncoat Jurgen Prochnow.
Dredd’s ruthless and unquestioning approach to his job further positions him as someone who is “just following orders,” and it’snever suggested that the citizens might have a legitimate beef against such a high-handed regime.
Only later is it revealed that
the administration, in the person of wise old man Max Von Sydow, is attempting to maintain a measure of democracy under adverse circumstances. But the signals are confusing, thereby removing any moral charge behind Dredd’s law-enforcement techniques until he’s faced with a certifiable maniac in Rico.
Story is structured to deliver nonstop action and special effects, and while young sci-fi fanatics and crash-and-burn aficionados no doubt will get their money’s worth, more discriminating viewers will feel more like they’re being numbed, or bludgeoned into submission. Young British director Danny Cannon, whose only previous feature “The Young Americans” showed some visual flair but no feel for storytelling, has his hands full here just getting all the diverse technical elements up on the screen, so any real style is out of the question.
Script contains the requisite stabs at Bond and Terminator-style witticisms, and Schneider provokes a few laughs with his jabs at the Stallone persona. For his part, the star is at his most totemlike, with much made of his furled, scowling mouth — the only part of his face visible from behind his futuristic helmet — and his new baby-blue eyes. Assante’s over-the-top turn as his adversary brings out the same impulses in Stallone, so that when they finally square off at the end it’s like two bellowing bulls locking horns.
Like Remar, Scott Wilson turns up without credit as the patriarch of a demented religious cult.
Most of the giant budget, reportedly in the $ 75 million range, obviously was devoted to the special effects, which are suitably spectacular without having the impact they would carry in a film with more drama, emotion and vision. Every effect is there for a second, then supplanted by another one, making them all seem more routine than they would if properly highlighted. Alan Silvestri’s score is boomingly effective in hyping the action.