Junkfood Cinema: Judge Dredd

By  · Published on April 23rd, 2010

Junkfood Cinema: Judge Dredd

Welcome back to Junkfood Cinema; gaining strength as we gain weight. If you have any special dietary needs or restrictions please don’t hesitate to inform the management…so they can forcibly remove you from the room. This is the weekly column wherein I test the boundaries of human suffering by subjecting you all to treasures from my vault of guilty pleasures. To add further unnecessary metaphor, if these films were automobiles, they would be Ford Pintos or Dodge Darts. But despite their shortcomings, these films never cease to bring me immeasurable, deeply-troubling joy. As if the irreparable damage to your IQ weren’t enough, each week I pair the film with a gloriously unhealthy food item on which to gorge while viewing. This month has been devoted to the lesser superhero films of the 1990’s and our finale today is epic: Judge Dredd.

Judge Dredd takes place in a desolate, hopeless future wherein the world has been reduced to pockets of habitability. The United States for example has four regions that can support human life and the interim wastelands have been renamed the Cursed Earth. The great American metropolises have culled into one massive entity called Mega City. I’m sure you can imagine the issues with joining all of the major cities, with all their respective crime rates, into one gargantuan township. Just when it seemed all hope for gaining traction on the lawlessness was lost, Mega City instituted the judges. These are law enforcement agents granted the power of judge, jury, and executioner to streamline the dispatch of justice. The most decorated, most distinguished member of this elite squad is Judge Joseph Dredd (Stallone). But when Dredd is framed for murder, Mega City is turned upside-down and the seeds of anarchy are sewn.

What Makes It Bad?

This is probably the most absurd of studio undertakings of all the films we’ve heretofore examined. It’s not every day that an American studio pulls the trigger on a British comic hero whose popularity never found adaquate purchase in the states (hence the hilariously incorrect spelling of the word dread). The lack of Americans clamoring for a big screen adaptation of the comic raises some interesting questions. Was it an attempt for Hollywood Pictures, the ultimate harbinger of 90’s schlock, to cash in on the Robocop franchise? Dredd’s robotic adherence to the law and lack of emotional range (at least at the beginning) would support that hypothesis as would his costume.

Or perhaps Stallone just could not resist upholding his streak of pure garbage. If you were to look at his cannon of film from 1986 to 1995, the titles read like a Junkfood Cinema Hall of Fame: Over the Top, Cobra, Stop or My Mom Will Shoot, Rocky V, Tango and Cash, Demolition Man…I just gave myself a headache. It seemed, for a marked stretch of time, that Stallone was incapable of taking a worthwhile project and resorted to scrapping the bottom of the film barrel to make ends meet. It makes me wonder who his agent was at the time; an adolescent chimpanzee with severe head trauma, perhaps? But then again, I’m sure more than one critic employed that same unflattering caricature of Stallone in their Judge Dredd reviews. Good lord is this thing stinky. It has all the trappings of a film desperate to be a box office smash. You can almost smell the plastic molding from the action figures being churned out at breakneck speed. It has that superficial veneer indicative of the 1990’s and for all its explosions and catchphrases, misses the boat on blockbuster by a wide margin.

The movie’s chief problem is the writer’s decision to add a wormy little sidekick to the film whose purpose outside “comic” relief remains hidden for the first 90% of the film. When we do finally ascertain his function to the story, it is negligible at best; something a canine sidekick could have just as easily accomplished. More to the point the problem is that the “actor” cast for that role was Rob Freaking Schneider! If you’ve ever watched First Blood and thought to yourself, “you know I like Stallone creating havoc and orchestrating widespread destruction, but I’d like it even more if the ‘making copies’ guy from SNL were here,” Judge Dredd is your film! I mean seriously, was this guy ever likable?! The shtick of him getting into trouble and having the giant, macho star bail him out only to take credit for everything didn’t even have a chance to get old; it was never funny. It’s an endurance test to put up with all his screen time.

The other problem with Judge Dredd is its villain. Now normally I like Armand Assante, but not when he’s impersonating Marlon Brando…impersonating Truman Capote. Every line out of his mouth was clearly intended to be menacing, but came off as handicapped. I do find it funny that they found the perfect counterpart to Stallone: diet Stallone! Sure, they work that into the plot, but upon your first viewing you may adopt the theory that they originally wanted Stallone to fight himself and hadn’t perfected the CG necessary to achieve it. I don’t know if he’s actually doing a Warner Brothers gangster impression but his lisp is deafening as are his terrible one-liners; batting back-and-forth with Stallone’s like a torturous tennis match of dull wits.

Why I Love It!

I have an unapologetic love for the look and feel of this film. The dystopian future with the post-apocalyptic flavor is right in my wheelhouse and Judge Dredd pulls it off beautifully. I found it hilarious that Aspen had become a giant penal colony. Could people really be sentenced to Sundance? The other major Robocop tie-in, intentional or not, is the extreme measures to which the government goes to control the plague of crime. I love the idea that cops can totally subvert due process in an effort to fast-track the judicial system. And by I love it, I mean I never want to see it enacted ever but it’s fun when Stallone uses it to shoot people. The judges’ uniforms are pretty badass as well; looking like the tops of futuristic Roman Empire standards. The city streets are clearly modeled after Blade Runner which, while a bad rip-off, demonstrates a solid commitment to delusion.

If you are still in contact with that hyper 7-year-old inside of you, there is no end to the pleasure you can glean from Judge Dredd. This film is jam-packed with the kind of stupidity that fills me with unbridled glee. Not only are we entreated to a fantastic post-apocalyptic, dysopian future, we get killer robots, flying motorcycles, redneck cannibals, and multi-setting laser guns. Watching Judge Dredd is like shifting through your toy box and trying to incorporate any action figure you grab into your game of Candyland. The film’s problems matter little in the face of these delicious absurdities. The heart of Judge Dredd’s entertainment value becomes apparent when Rico activates the gigantic, dopey battle droid. Hooray!

Say what you will about Stallone in this film, dude is going for it! In full awareness of the low quality of the film, Sly puts an inordinate amount of effort into his performance. Sure it’s hammy and in any other movie would elicit full-body eye rolls (yes, it is possible), but in the day-old, processed cheese shell that is the rest of the film Stallone’s over-enthusiasm works. If the idea is that, even among the judges, Dredd is a larger than life figure, it helps to have a man-giant like Stallone delivering every line for maximum catch-phraseosity. He is a mountain of machismo with a jaw like a marble slab and every time he barks out commands to criminals or passes lethal judgment on the most heinous of transgressors, the film really finds its ridiculous, but altogether lovable, voice. Funnier than anything uttered by Schneider is just how seriously Stallone is taking this part.

Not one to deviate from an established theme, this week’s 90’s superhero film features a younger model of a now renowned actress. This time it’s the uber sexy Diane Lane playing a hot shot young judge with a lawyer background. First of all, if the judges are granted the ultimate say over not only guilt and innocence but punishment as well, why do lawyers even exist in this future? She provides the tether to Dredd’s long-lost emotionality and provides a foible to his robotic slavery to the word of the law. She is also fine as cherry pie and it don’t hurt that the standard issue uniform for judges are incredibly formfitting. I’m requisitioning a film crew to shoot a film I’ve had rolling around in my head for the last month wherein all four of the starlets from all four of the films we’ve covered this month are pitted against one another in a battle to the death! Why? Because they probably won’t go for the other film idea I had that involves all four of them.

Junkfood Pairing: Fudge Bread Pudding

Was I stuck this week? Absolutely! But then I logged onto this magical kaleidoscope of information known as the internet and discovered that there is a breed of bread pudding that adds fudge to this already unhealthy dessert. As you sit and watch Mega City’s most impressive crime fighter, enjoy Judge Dredd’s Fudge Bread…Pudding. Rhymes? Nope, not above them suckers!

Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.