Judge Dredd poster

Welcome to “Totally 90s” where I review movies that could have only been made during the 90’s. Today in “Totally 90s”: it’s 1995’s Judge Dredd, which has all the tropes of a typical 90’s action/comic book movie. Let me quickly sum them up:

  • An 80s action hero whose career is showing early cracks. Much like Schwarzenegger, Van Damme and Seagal as their movies also started to underperform in the second half of the 90s.
  • A comic book movie trying to capitalize on Batman‘s success. Before Marvel properties were turned into good movies, the 90s saw a string of more obscure comic book movies being released with mostly bad results: Tank Girl, The Mask, The Shadow, The Phantom, Dick Tracy, The Rocketeer, Barb Wire, Steel and Spawn to name a few.
  • The dystopian future. A lot of the aforementioned comic book movies tend to be set in the future when the whole world seemingly has gone to hell. Barb Wire and Tank Girl incorporate similar.
  • Cheesy one-liners: Dredd is full of them, but most of them feel forced as they are justice-related.
  • Rob Schneider as the sidekick.

As you can see, it doesn’t get much more 90s than Judge Dredd. But that still could make for a good movie right?

Sadly it’s not. Aside from being horribly dated, it is simply put not a good movie.

In Judge Dredd Sylvester Stallone plays the titular character: a police officer with instant field judiciary powers, who is convicted for a crime he did not commit. Together with the help of a character he sentenced earlier (Rob Schneider) he escapes from prison to prove his innocence and apprehend the man responsible for framing him.

It’s a short movie with a brisk 96 minute running time in which a lot happens. Therefor the movie has very little character development. Character motivations are reduced to the stereotypes they are representing. Stallone is the judge without any form of emotion, only believing in the law. Schneider is the comic sidekick, Armand Assante the scene chewing villain and Diane Lane the love interest of Dredd. Something which does not work at all. Characters don’t even grow in this movie. At the end of the movie we go right back to where we started: Dredd roams the streets on his Lawmaster motorcycle. Maybe he learned from his experience, but I doubt it.

What really dates this movie is the whole Judge-Jury-Executioner aspect. Even though this movie was made after the Rodney King beating it doesn’t seem to be aware of the problems with police brutality in real life. Sending people to jail for years or death without a trial is in today’s social climate rather awkward. There are so many stories and videos of people getting killed by the police because they simply felt threatened by a suspect. Though the whole concept of street Judges is probably one of Donald Trump’s wet dreams.

What makes the movie unintentionally funny is Stallone’s height. Action heroes receive part of their credibility from their height. A tall guy is more menacing than a short one. Stallone is rather short so you have to frame him in certain ways to make him seem more imposing or place him next to actors that are significantly shorter. Armand Assante on the other hand is a lot taller which creates some of the most obvious goofs in the movie: Stallone’s varying height. Just take a look that the following two screenshots where Assante towers over Stallone in the first and Stallone looks down to watch Assante in the eyes in the next:

Here Armand Assante towers above Stallone

And here Stallone is shot in such a way he’s taller than Assante

Being a movie that is so 90s there is a certain amount of entertainment here. It operates on the same level as movies like The Crow and Tank Girl. It’s far from great, bad even, contains a ton of plot holes, the characters are two-dimensional but it is still watchable and even fun at times. Even a corny Stallone is still mildly entertaining. Most of the fun comes from Armand Assante who, as the villain Rico, hams it up to eleven. His over-acting is the movie’s redeeming factor. The scene where he gets an argument with Stallone and utters the word “Law” mimicking Stallone’s slurred speech is pure gold.

Judge Dredd is a stupid, but occasionally fun movie that has not aged very well. It’s also one of the first movies of Stallone’s career slump between 1994 and 2006. I can only advice Judge Dredd if you’re really curious how comic book movies were before 2000.

Judge Dredd? rather Judge Dreadful.

Joan Chen in Judge Dredd
That smug look: she is clearly not aware the trash she is in.