As we near the end of our Kurt & Sly week ahead of the release of “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” – in which Stallone apparently appears as a character named Starhawk – we figured we should probably spotlight Sly’s previous foray into the comic book world in 1995’s “Judge Dredd,” because seriously why else would we cover this movie? Since no one else had the time or interest in Tag Teaming this one with CJ, we enlisted Sly superfan, frequent commenter, and longtime friend of the Tough Guy staff Adam to pick up the slack. You can contact him on Twitter at @DryWryBred, or if you are in the general Los Angeles area you can check out his band The Way Back Machine if you’re in the mood for some rock and dance tunes from the ‘60s through ‘90s. In the meantime, let’s see what verdict they handed down for “Judge Dredd”:
Adam: Ever see a really attractive couple and think, “They’re gonna have beautiful kids.” And then when they do have kids, the kids have inherited just the wrong combination of the parents’ features? That’s kind of how I feel about “Judge Dredd.” A lot of potential, but it really brought out the weaker aspects of its creators.
Take screenwriter Steven E. de Souza, for example. He wrote “Die Hard.” That should be enough right there, but he also wrote “48 Hrs.” And “Commando.” And “The Running Man.” But during those same years he also wrote “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “Beverly Hills Cop III,” and “Street Fighter.” Oh and “Hudson Hawk.” (Side note: I actually love “Hudson Hawk.” But if you asked me to pick the best screenwriter for a movie like “Judge Dredd,” it would not be the guy who wrote the line “Bunny … ball-ball.”)
Now having said that, “Judge Dredd” is definitely entertaining, but also definitely dumb. Watching it critically in anticipation of writing this, I lost track of the number of times I said, “Wait, what?” out loud. We’re talking about a movie that had to lower its violence quotient in order to get an R rating, but at the same time it has street intersections called things like “Abbot and Costello” and “Burns and Allen.”
CJ: I’’ll start by noting that there has been an odd theme in the movies we have been reviewing. Whether it’s The Boz in “Stone Cold,” or Paul Walker/Brian in every single “Fast & Furious” movie, the cops are really bad at their jobs. Well good news, “Judge Dredd” is here to provide absolutely no counter argument to this. In fact, he might be the worst so far. Allow me to be … the law.
James Earl Jones starts us off by letting us know the world has fallen apart from various vicious and cataclysmic events, including earthquakes, floods, ice storms, war, riots, chaos, and … injustice? Wait, the first few things I get. Mother Nature wreaking havoc, people turning into vicious killers, these are concrete things, but injustice is just a general concept. I’m picturing people running from the west screaming “Ahhh! The earthquakes!” and meeting up with the people from the east screaming “Ahhh! The injustice!” and then watching as the people from the east try to explain how people just generally being douchey is on par with the ground tearing itself apart.
Luckily, humanity came up with the great idea to shove everyone into as small a space as possible. How this stopped earthquakes, flooding, and ice storms I don’t know, and it didn’t stop people from violence either, as riots and chaos still seem to reign supreme. Actually this was a terrible idea, and concentrating the population just makes it much easier to wipe out the human race. No matter; this movie is about judges and the judging they are ready to judge!
Enter Judge Dredd as portrayed by Sylvester Stallone, fresh off a trifecta of greatness in kicking Kynette’s ass in “Cliffhanger,” kicking Wesley Snipes’ ass in “Demolition Man,” and fucking Sharon Stone’s ass in “The Specialist.” Dredd cares about one thing, and one thing only, and that is the law. He proves this point by immediately leading a fellow judge to his death and then killing multiple bad guys in cold blood.
Adam: Keep in mind though that the three movies he did before the hat trick you mentioned were “Rocky V,” “Oscar,” and “Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot.”
Anyway, my first “huh?” moment in this movie occurred about 15 minutes in, when Chief Judge Fargo (Max von Sydow) makes a speech about how the badge stands for freedom. (Don’t worry; he takes it back later.) Actually, it was probably a few minutes before that when Dredd says “Grenade!” to his gun and it blows the doors off a building in exactly the way a grenade wouldn’t.
(For what it’s worth, it also seems a little dangerous to rely on speaking to your gun in order to make it work. Especially since the only part of the judges’ uniform that doesn’t protect them is their mouths.)
CJ: Before I move on, when Dredd first enters the picture, one of the bad guys notices it’s him and everyone gets scared. If Dredd was a by-the-book and fair guy like he’s presented as, wouldn’t the bad guy react with more of a, “Oh good it’s Dredd. I suggest we put our weapons down and engage in some spirited but evenly moderated debate, and let things come to a natural conclusion with a fair verdict from the judge.” Instead, he reacts as if everyone knows that Dredd amongst bad guys is like a shark in a pool filled with seals. And the shark has a gun.
Adam: Don’t forget the obvious setup with one thug (James Remar!) warning another thug that the judges’ guns are booby-trapped. I’m thinking, “Are you new?” Well apparently he was, because the gun kills the guy after he picks it up and tries to fire it. (Also, in a rated R movie, was it really necessary to have one of the thugs say, “Holy drok!” in surprise?)
CJ: After that Dredd is obviously feeling bad about all the murder he just committed (oh and the fellow dead judge they had no funeral for!), because he sees Judge Hershey [Adam: Diane Lane plays the part so humorlessly, she makes Stallone look like Rob Schneider] needing some help with a man who is committing a parking violation. “Lucky for me, a chance to atone for earlier sins. I’ll simply have this gentleman towed, collect some fine money that’ll help our local orphanage, and then it’s back to patrolling the neighborhood where I am adored,” he must be saying to himself, as he promptly shoots a grenade that blows the man’s car up. Oops!
Chief Judge Fargo knows all of this and can only think of one way to proceed: Have Dreddy teach the recruits! Who better to learn from than the man who loves to destroy the property of the citizens and then also murder them. Dredd does not disappoint, as he proceeds to give the recruiting pitch that Alec Baldwin’s “Glengarry Glenn Ross” character could only dream of, telling his recruits thanks for joining the squad, and now they can look forward to a more-than-likely early death (probably because of him), but if not, they will spend the rest of their days alone, probably pining for the sweet relief that only death can bring. Not quite as good as “Be all that you can be,” but “Be all that you can be before you’re killed” is a close second.
Judgement: I would say coffee’s for closers, but Dredd would probably want me to talk about the dangers of caffeine and how coffee stains your teeth.
Adam: Yeah. My next “huh?” moment was Fargo assigning Dredd duty at the Academy twice a week teaching … ethics. “Oh, I get it. Because that way he’ll have to reacquaint himself with the ethics of the job and it will make him a better judge.” Or it’ll teach all of the cadets the ethics of a man who needs to get reacquainted with ethics.
CJ: Before he can turn these idealistic young people into sociopaths like him, Judge Dredd has been set up for the murder of a prominent journalist looking to expose problems in Mega-City One. This seems odd, because Dredd has committed more than enough murder in the opening 20 minutes that you could really just pick out any one of them to lock him up with. Evidence wouldn’t be hard to come by either, as he willingly did it in front of lots of witnesses and fellow judges.
Either way, he’s locked up in prison when Chief Judge Fargo comes by to inform him of what’s going on. This is where Dredd’s skills in jurisprudence really shine:
Fargo: The Council is said to have irrefutable proof.
Dredd: Do you believe that?
Fargo: There is to be a full tribunal. A conviction means death!
Dredd: Do you believe that sir?
As we can see, while the stakes are clearly high, Dredd knows it’s okay if he’s put to death as long as some old man believes he didn’t commit this murder. I mean, personally I’d prefer that literally everyone else believes he didn’t do it either, but that’s why we have different ways of saying tomato.
Another side note: Did anyone else find it funny that the journalist kept talking about his huge undercover operation … in the middle of the street, in front of everyone, constantly mentioning his real name and not wearing a disguise, with a camera crew? Okay.
We then move on to Dredd’s trial, and once again he shows his keen insight into the law by hiring Judge Hershey to defend him. Is it her years of experience practicing law, or case after case she has won against insurmountable odds? Nope, it’s because she got an A in interpretational law at the academy. Oh, and he trusts her. This trust is immediately proven to be a giant mistake as Hershey’s only defense strategy is to say a cadet who is pretty good with videos ‘n shit said it looked fake. Feh to the experts. The prosecution immediately counters with bullets that are coded with Dredd’s DNA. Good job Hershey!
Adam: My favorite part was when Hershey demanded an appeal. Ummm … to whom? You’re already in front of the full tribunal. And in a society that lets its judges immediately carry out executions, what exactly would winning an appeal look like? “This court finds in favor of the defendant. His ashes are free to go.”
CJ: A little context: early in the movie Dredd tells Hershey that he only ever had one friend, and unfortunately that friendship ended when he had to judge him. Fast-forward to Dredd taking out the cannibalistic Angel family and sitting beside a now dying Fargo, who is letting him know that his whole life has been a lie; he never had family, he was a test tube baby, and he actually had a brother who has since turned evil.
Fargo explains that Dredd was actually best friends with the brother he never knew he had, and obviously Dredd immediately realizes it was the one friend he’d had who was his brother. No, I’m kidding, Dredd hears this and proceeds to just stare blankly at Fargo, almost as if he’s about to say “Yes, go on, who is this guy?” Fargo then actually has to … oh you know what, here’s literally what happened:
Fargo: You were best friends at the Academy. Star pupils.
Dredd: (staring and drooling)
Dredd: (blinks once)
Fargo: And then he turned. And for his crimes, you judged him.
Judgement: This man is trusted with interpreting the law. THE LAW!
Adam: Yes, it turns out that Dredd and Rico are clones created to be the perfect judge in something called the Janus project. Rico, being Dredd’s clone, is also played by Stallone. No, I’m kidding, he’s played by Armand Assante of course.
My mind shut down. “Did they just say Dredd and Rico are clones? Like identical?” Maybe that gets explained by Fargo, who Kenobis out of nowhere to provide necessary exposition: There was another infant created in that experiment, but something went wrong. Genetically mutated to the perfect criminal. “Oh, so he mutated. Then how did Dredd’s exact DNA wind up on the bullets used to frame him?”
Also, Janus was the two-faced Roman god, so of course it’s a perfect name for a cloning program. “But we named the project ‘Janus.’ How could it have created two different men?”
It gets better. Turns out the real bad guy is Judge Griffin (Jürgen Prochnow), whose plan all along was to free Rico, frame Dredd, remove Fargo, and assassinate enough judges that the rest of the Council lets him create more Janus clones to take away the freedom that’s never really been apparent in the first place. So, naturally, Rico takes offense at this. He wants to create “some free-thinking people” that he can control. No really, he says both those things.
CJ: As Dredd stumbles into Rico’s plot to take over the Council, his fellow judges and security personnel chase him. Not because they are bad, but because as far as they know Dredd is a convict who killed a prominent journalist. Dredd proceeds to kill a bunch of them during a bike chase through the streets and air of Mega-City One.
This chase not only kills who I can only assume are decent hard-working cops with families, but also results in putting the lives of ordinary citizens at risk. Like, for example, when he pulls up at the last second and sends a cop hurtling into some guy’s bodega that blows up. But he’s not done. In order to save Rob Schneider’s life, he sends another bike flying into an apartment complex where it also blows up and takes out at least two apartments and definitely killing whatever people, kids, and cats that were inside. No one survived that, not a chance.
Judgement: How is he a cop? Was his class just him and Rico, and Dredd automatically passed ‘cause Rico raped one of the animals at the zoo?
Adam: On the plus side, it turns out Rico also has literally no concept as to what clones are. “They’re going to be my brothers and sisters!” Sisters? This was the point at which my brain told me I was on my own.
And as far as Judge Griffin’s demise, the only advice I can offer is that if you’re going to shoot the “perfect criminal,” maybe don’t walk halfway across the room so you’re within reach of his pet killer robot and only then take aim at him.
CJ: Either way we finally get to the big battle between Dredd and Rico, and nothing really happens outside of Dredd screaming “Rico” out of the corner of his mouth. Eventually they get to the crown of the Statue of Liberty, where Dredd finds himself dangling from the edge of the statue. Rico is about to shoot him, but foolishly grabbed Dredd’s gun, so only Dredd can operate it. He doesn’t know this though, and in a weird moment of decency, tells Dredd he was the only one who liked him. Dredd responds by saying “I’ll be the judge of that” and tossing Rico to his death.
Two things: first, Dredd can’t be the judge of Rico’s personal feelings, and second, he never asked Rico to plead his case, so technically throwing him to his death feels like a violation of his Miranda Rights.
Judgement: I will be the judge of this – what the fuck man?
Adam: In the end, of course, the good guys win. And by “good guys,” I mean “Police, Jury and Executioner.” However, because of all the assassinating that went on earlier, there aren’t enough of them to, I guess, kill or jail every single citizen of Mega-City One for littering or whatever like they normally would. This shortage, I imagine, is why they totally fail to punish Dredd for everything he’s done since his conviction. “Judge Dredd, we eventually find you innocent of the first murder. However, the other two-dozen you perpetrated within the first hour of your incarceration … well, we’ll just forget all that too. Welcome back!”
CJ: And so Dredd has cleaned up the Council and saved the city, but not without first blowing up some buildings, killing civilians, and murdering fellow judges in cold blood. After such heroism, none of us were shocked to see that he was immediately asked to be the new Chief Judge, I think mainly because he’d already killed anyone else qualified. Knowing his city needs him, and he can root out any corruption that might still be festering, Dredd nicely tells his cops and city to go fuck themselves, he’s happy being a petty judge who can seemingly murder at will.
Judgement: (throws hands up in air and walks away)