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25 Years Later: Judge Dredd

30 June 20 words: George White

It's been 25 years since Judge Dredd, which currently boasts a rating of 19% on Rotten Tomatoes - Screen Co-Editor George White thinks that might be too generous... 

Director: Danny Cannon
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Armand Assante, Rob Schneider
Running time: 96 minutes 

There are bad films. Then there are truly woeful films. And then there’s 1995’s Judge Dredd. Easily one of the cheesiest movies ever made, this testosterone-fuelled hellscape is cringe-inducing from start to finish, feeling more like a poorly-executed parody than a respectable film in itself. It is blockbuster filmmaking at its most nonsensical and, as a result, it becomes something of a guilty pleasure - if you can disengage your brain for long enough to enjoy it. 

The biggest crime that this film commits is to bring its embarrassingly unsubtle script into the world. It’s hard not to be given the impression that the writers were playing ‘masculinity bingo’ with each on-the-nose, overly ‘manly’ line of dialogue. Feeling like something that Joey Tribbiani and Chandler Bing whipped together after an intense game of ‘fireball’, Judge Dredd cycles through every bumpy cliche in the pre-Jason Bourne action movie handbook, hammering the audience with sleazy messages about justice and honour at every turn. 

“I cannot break the law. I am the law!” shouts Sylvester Stallone (in the titular role) before blasting a room full of enemies, with little-to-no care about damage done to property in the meantime. Whenever Stallone opens his mouth, the viewer’s attention feels as though it’s been grabbed by his huge, god-like arms, leaving you excited to see what absolute ridiculousness he might well produce this time around. 

If this, somehow, gives the impression that this movie might actually be cool, the action itself will quickly put a dampener on your expectations. In many ways, this feels more like a B-movie from the 1980s than a Hollywood blockbuster with a $90,000,000 budget (yep, that’s ninety million dollars). Each overly-dramatic, unnecessarily slow-motion fight scene and immersion-breaking bout of poor CGI leaves you wondering how this film comes from the same era as Terminator 2 and The Matrix - and it’s almost disgraceful to think that they might be grouped in the same category on Netflix or Amazon Prime.

In the end, the film proves to be enjoyable, but not for the reasons director Danny Cannon intended

Stallone, as always, does little more than deliver his dialogue while blankly staring, emotionless, at his fellow actors. Rather than coming off as intimidating or steely, he is his usual blend of thoroughly disengaging and overly-macho, and is ultimately used as little more than a prop that the ‘narrative’ (that may be too generous) is built around. Armand Assante, as the film’s antagonist, Rico, is also pretty poor. It is clear that Assante is trying to emulate the unnerving instability of characters such as Blade Runner’s Roy Batty, but his general lack of authority on screen, and his sheer desperation to appear frightening, causes him to feel more like Eastenders’ Ian Beale after he’s received bad news - entertaining, sure, but far from threatening. 

Some members of the cast do leave an impression on the audience for the right reasons, though. Diane Lane does her best in the limited role of Judge Hershey, injecting more personality into the film in her 20 minutes of screentime than Stallone manages throughout the entire flick. And Max von Sydow uses his vast experience to full effect, proving a powerful presence whenever he is called upon. 

The utter ridiculousness of Judge Dredd is admittedly kind of great, too, almost managing to make it one of those ‘so good it’s bad’ types of movie. While you won’t find yourself laughing when you’re supposed to - in fact, comic relief Rob Schneider is more irritating than funny - the absurdity of certain moments will definitely prove to be comical, providing a stream of unintentional amusement for the audience. In the end, the film proves to be enjoyable, but not for the reasons director Danny Cannon intended. 

Judge Dredd is truly a mess of a movie, its unsubtle dialogue, abysmal action and poor performances making it one of the trashiest films in existence. It is blockbuster action at its most ludicrous, making it difficult to believe it was created by professionals with a pretty sizable budget. That said, the film’s stupidity does make it something of a guilty pleasure. If you are able to switch off your mind and take Judge Dredd for what it is, you may well - against all the odds - manage to have fun. 

Did you know? The film was originally going to made back in the 1980s with Harrison Ford set to play Judge Dredd.

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