ComicsAlliance Reviews ‘Judge Dredd’ (1995), Part Two
Chris Sims: Welcome back to ComicsAlliance vs. the '90s and our exhaustive look at 1995's Judge Dredd! When we last left off, Dredd had been convicted of murder and sent off to prison, Judge Fargo had retired and been exiled to the Cursed Earth, and Rico and Griffin were plotting a takeover of Mega City One. If that sounds fun and interesting, trust us: it's not.
Matt Wilson: Overbearing and whiplash-inducing are more accurate terms.Chris: As we rejoin the story, Dredd is on the flight to the Aspen Prison, where one of the Stormtrooper cosplayers acting as a guard informs him (and us) that they'll be flying at a height of only sixty feet. I wonder if this overdubbed dialogue will be important later!
Matt: Probably not. It just so happens that the prisoner who is seated next to Dredd is none other than Rob Schneider, who got carted off to prison for hacking a droid what seems like an eternity ago. Since his arrest, I'd say around a week has passed. There was an entire tribunal! In a world where entire blocks get arrested and sent to prison at once, how in the world could he be on this same transport?
Chris: Maybe there's only one flight every week, and Schneider just missed the last one? Considering that Dredd killed seven people and only arrested one, it seems like the actual prison flights might fill up a little slower than you'd expect.
Matt: However it happened, Schneider makes no secret of the guy next to him being Dredd, even mocking him to his face, which means one of the scarred-up cons behind them can slip a knife out of his boot and threaten Dredd with it. You'd think they'd send these guys through a metal detector or at least frisk them.
Chris: Clearly, as Dredd is learning along with us, the Judge system has its flaws. But to be fair, Schneider did not have a murderous clone hack into a spaghetti garbage robot and frame him, so it's not like they're on quite the parallel that the movie would like us to believe.
Matt: The knife attack is thwarted when a group of religious-zealot Cursed Earth inhabitants shoot a rocket at the transport plane and crash it in a series of fireballs. Out of the frying pan and into the fire there.
Chris: Not only are they zealots, but they're also cannibals intent on eating "city boys." They're also horribly deformed by years of life in a ravaged wasteland, although they obviously got bored halfway through the makeup process and just decided to let them go on screen with one guy with a messed up face, one guy that just has a pretty gross cold sore, and a guy who looks a little like Gene Hackman.
Matt: Back in the fancy city, where they don't have any Gene Hackman-lookin' types, Hershey is running that Blade Runner "enhance image" program on that photo of Rico she found. Before she can get anywhere, though, the screen goes blank and she's told her "authority has been removed," which is a pretty vague statement. If I were her, I'd be a little concerned that my computer just seemed to fire me.
Chris: She takes it in stride, as befitting a Judge. Just because she's lounging around in a flowing silk robe investigating '90s wireframe animated .gifs doesn't make her any less stoic, no matter how sassy Adrienne Barbeau's Uncredited Voice gets with her.
Matt: Speaking of uncredited, the actor who plays Hershel on The Walking Dead is actually the patriarch of the zealot cannibal family, the Angels, which has Dredd and Rob Schneider strung up in a cave from Skyrim. He introduces his kids -- one of whom is Mean Machine, the cyborg from the comics making another cameo -- to them after Schneider once again doesn't hesitate to reveal Dredd is Dredd.
Chris: One of the best things about seeing this movie on DVD so many years after I first rented it on VHS from Blockbuster is how you can very clearly see that Dredd is rocking a temporary tattoo. You can see the little outline of it and everything!
Matt: "I AM THE LAW UNTIL MY BATHTIME"
Chris: Dredd opts to growl at the Angels and refer to them as "scumbags," which has got to be left over from the attempts to get this a PG-13 rating. Threatened with murder, Rob Schneider fakes a conversion, which makes the Angels want to eat him, which seems like a completely unnecessary addition to this scene. Don't they want to eat them anyway?
Matt: One of many weird things about this scene. Dredd seems to know everything about the Angel family, but how or why would he? Why would anything outside the city really affect him? Also: It's super-weird how a scene that includes the word "scumbags" also shows a human body being cooked.
Chris: And don't forget that this movie opens with Dredd shooting seven people! How did they ever think this was not going to get an R?
Matt: I mean, The Dark Knight is PG-13 and it's got plenty of shooting and killing. It's just weird what they show/say and what they don't here. Anyhoo, Pa sicks Mean Machine on Dredd, and of course his attack knocks down the post he was tied to, leaving him an opening to kill everyone. He shoots the one Angel son like eight times! It is pretty excessive. Then he shoots four or five members of the prison search party who show up!
Chris: The best (well, "best") thing about this is that Stallone yells "GUILTY!" before just straight up unloading a clip on that one guy. And then, after this brutal killfest, he honks Rob Schneider's nose and makes fun of him for crying.
Chris: The tone of this thing is all over the map, folks.
Matt: One last search party guard shows up to eat a bullet from Fargo, who somehow knew to be there at just the right time. Not that it matters because Mean Machine stabs HIM dead right after that. Then Dredd playfully kills Mean Machine with tongue-in-cheek banter about how he's using city electricity illegally. This is after his life-long mentor just died.
Chris: And it gives him another opportunity to drop "I knew you'd say that," which has beaten all the odds to become this movie's most annoying catchphrase. Sorry, "I am the law."
Matt: In a lab back in the city, Hershey and her smug student pal are analyzing a photo -- not the one of Dredd and Rico, but the baby picture. Hershey thinks the kid's been examining the wrong one, but he's discovered everything in it is "fake" except for the baby. This makes no sense.
Chris: He's seen a lot of Photoshops in his time and wants her to look at the pixels. Also, can we go ahead and point out that this weird relationship Hershey has with this kid only makes sense if they're getting it on? Judge Hershey / The Subject / Of cadet fan-ta-sies.
Matt: "Judge Hershey, we have a judge who is an expert in photography and video. We'd suggest you make any inquiries to--" "No thank you. I know this student and he's the best and he's going to be FAMOUS for this, you just wait!"
Chris: Through some Photoshop Wizardry, Hershey's boytoy is able to not only drop out the "false pixels," but he even recreates the original background of the photograph. That's how pictures work, right?
Matt: It's like a painting. You just paint over the old background with a new, false background, and add in a mom and dad. To see the original painting, you wash the false paint off. Voila!
Chris: So basically, Judge Fargo should've just taken a pair of scissors to the photo rather than doing state-of-the art digital manipulation. A lesson we can all learn. Speaking of Judge Fargo, we now return to the Cursed Earth, where Dredd has dragged his body to a collapsed courthouse with a statue of Justice in an effort to give his death scene MAXIMUM SYMBOLISM.
Matt:As he croaks, Fargo reveals that Dredd is the result of Project Janus, which took DNA from the council of justices and created the Ultimate Judge. Dredd doesn't believe it, he has a family, but Fargo admits the picture of his family was fake. So glad we needed that last scene, then. He then reveals that there was another infant "genetically mutated into the perfect criminal," which he figures out is Rico. If Dredd had played Metal Gear Solid three years later, he'd know all this.
Chris: You'd think Fargo, who knew all about there being a clone with the same DNA, would've maybe mentioned this before deciding that his only option was to wander out into Fallout 3 and send his son to prison for life. I mean, I guess he was trying to protect the secret, but now that he's dying, he clearly does not give a dang.
Matt: Fargo also thought Rico was dead, because I guess the Chief Justice of Mega City One doesn't get to know who's being kept in secret, super-secure rooms in Aspen Prison.
Chris: But Rico is very much alive back in Mega City One, hanging out with Judge Griffin and a psychologist who refers to him as a "petulant child." Even with that, he's still better at making friends than Dredd.
Matt: Can we talk about how Judge Dredd at this point is totally indistinguishable from, say, the lead character from Demolition Man or Rex Cliffhanger, which I think was the Cliffhanger guy's name? Everything that makes him Dredd, by appearance, is gone now. This is just a Stallone movie now.
Chris: Yeah, but with all the Dredd characterization they did try to hang on him - the hardass fascist stuff that I mentioned last week and the coldness to everyone except, inexplicably, Rob Schneider - has made him way less likable than his usual character. It's basically just Cobra 2 now. Also, I believe the main character of Demolition Man was "John Spartan."
Matt: It was. And there he at least had Wesley Snipes to play off of and those great Taco Bell gags. Why didn't we just watch Demolition Man and say it was Judge Dredd?
Chris: I think Demolition Man actually makes a nice contrast to Judge Dredd. In one movie, it was this weird future where the cops were too soft to deal with a criminal like Simon Phoenix (AKA Wesley Snipes As The Joker), so they needed this brutal caveman to come back and be a savage, you know? It's like the whole romanticism of Conan that Robert E. Howard did, but in this modern setting that's also pretty funny. And then you have Dredd, in this future where everyone is ostensibly a savage caveman, and Stallone is just the biggest jerk with the most repetitive catchphrases.
Matt: Also, one is a good movie and the other isn't. Griffin, Rico and the psychologist--who is played by Josie from Twin Peaks--stage an all-out assault on the judges in an effort to establish a "new order." They don't show it, but I suppose they killed Ian Curtis along with all those judges. (That joke was for Andy Khouri.)
Chris: This is yet another part of the movie that I don't get at all. Why are they blowing up all the judges? Isn't the goal here to just take over the city? Wouldn't an army of people already trained to enforce the letter of the law be an asset to that?
Matt: I'd maybe have an answer to that if I could understand what Jurgen Prochnow was saying at all when he described what kind of society they were trying to build. But he does want to make new judges like they made Dredd.
Chris: While all this is going down, Dredd and Schneider have finally managed to walk back to Mega City One, and they've decided that they need to sneak through a pipe that belches fire every thirty seconds because we are now watching a video game.
Matt: A video game that has Rob Schneider jokes about knocking on the city wall with a pizza. At least if this was on the SNES, I'd be able to skip that text instead of having to hear it.
Chris: It's worth noting that in addition to being unrecognizable as a Judge Dredd story, this movie is also now a buddy comedy about Rob Schneider and Sylvester Stallone. I wonder if they'll grow to respect each other by the end!
Matt: There are two scenes back-to-back, intercut with the council opening the files about Janus, that each end with Rob Schneider saying some terrible one-liner (one's about Dredd unfortunately not being dead, the other's about having sex with a judge Dredd knocked out) and Dredd silently looking at him. I imagine there were at least 10 more of those that were cut for time.
Chris: Not to mention Schneider's zany demand for an apology. Ha ha. These wacky guys.
Matt: Dredd nabs a uniform (one that happens to be exactly like his own) from the judge he knocks out, but not before Rico can walk in and kill the whole council after they do what Griffin wants and open the Janus files to make new test-tube judges. Dredd rushes in to stop Rico, but he runs away. Dredd tells Griffin he's under arrest, but he shoots himself in the arm and blames the council's murder on Dredd as guards rush in. One of the guards JUST SAW Dredd outside, though, as the council was being killed. There's an eyewitness!
Chris: Of course, he only saw him because Rob Schneider will not stop calling him "Dredd," out loud, as often as he possibly can. Of all the characters Schneider has ever played, Fergie Ferguson might bee the absolute rock stupidest.
Matt: Hey, let's not belittle the idiocy of that guy from The Waterboy who says, "YOU CAN DO IT!" or The Hot Chick.
Chris: You have to adjust for the average IQ of an Adam Sandler production. Anyway, after Stallone makes a majestic, slow-motion leap down a flight of eight stairs - hilarious - he hops on the prototype flying Lawmaster and punches it in the screen until it works. This is how he makes his escape. I refuse to believe this was actually written as filmed in a script, as no one would write down a sequence of events this stupid.
Matt: That the Judges, an elite group of law enforcers, would have a whole class of vehicles that never work is ludicrous to begin with.
Chris: Sadly, I can believe someone wrote the joke about Rob Schneider pissing himself.
Matt: There's a part of this chase where a billboard that's made of - lasers, I guess - explodes when a guard drives through it. It explodes.
Chris: Obviously, you know nothing about lasers. Those things explode all the time. There's another plot hole, too, in that Dredd and Ferguson have absolutely no trouble firing the big shotgun that they took off the Judges that were sent to kill them in the Cursed Earth. I'm willing to buy that Dredd's DNA sample hadn't been erased from the databanks yet, but shouldn't Rob Schneider have not been able to hold that thing without it blowing up?
Matt: I suppose you could say the whole DNA thing is only for the Judges' handguns. I really don't care. The chase continues forever. Dredd knocks the last guard off his flying Lawmster and jumps on it, leaving Rob Schneider on one by himself, which he immediately f**ks up piloting. so Dredd says, "Need a lift, kid?" and pulls him off the bike, letting it crash into a nearby building, at the very least damaging a lot of property, if not killing innocent people. With all the guards and innocents he's killed, Dredd should be in prison!
Chris: The law can't apologize, Matt. While Rico unveils his master plan to clone himself despite the protests of Josie from Twin Peaks, Dredd and Schneider end up at Hershey's apartment, where Hershey and Dredd have a Moment where they Talk About Their Feelings. I'm only a Dredd fan in the most casual possible way, but I'm going to go ahead and guess that this is an element that is out of place in most Dredd stories.
Chris: I do totally have a thing for Diane Lane in those giant KISS boots, though.
Matt: I have read only a handful of Judge Dredd comics myself, but I also don't think he's ever said, "Need a lift, kid?" to a grown man who was a criminal. It's hard to quantify what's least in-character here.
Chris: It's worth noting that - surprise! - Danny Cannon has insisted that the finished product bears very little resemblance to the actual script. No kidding.
Matt: Rico and Griffin have a disagreement over all the clones coming from Rico's DNA instead of that council they both conspired to kill that ends with Hammerstein (who Rico just calls "robot") ripping Griffin's arms off. Dredd, Hershey and Rob Schneider head into their bunker where Hammerstein, who's really busy lately, attacks them.
Chris: He gut-shoots Schneider, which makes ABC Warriors my favorite 2000 AD strip just on general principle. Then, Rico takes Dredd into his lab and starts monologuing, and then, in what is hands down the best scene in the movie, they both yell the word "LAW!" at each other while making their mouths look as weird as possible. I wish this would've gone on for five minutes, no joke.
Matt: From the looks of these clone slugs are we to assume Rico and Dredd have no gentials?
Chris: It would explain why they're so pissed off.
Matt: Rico demands that Dredd choose between The LAW and him, "the only family you ever had." He sort of gets all verklempt saying it, too. Dredd says Rico will have to kill him, so Rico tells Hammerstein to do just that. But then Hammerstein goes rogue.
Chris: Amazingly, Rob Schneider hacking the spaghetti robot in the opening actually has a payoff here, as he hacks Hammerstein and turns him against Rico. Then all hell breaks loose, and it becomes abundantly clear that Josie from Twin Peaks was added 60 minutes into a 90 minute movie so that Hershey could have a fellow lady to fight during the climax. To their credit (and Cannon's), though, they do just full-on punch each other out. If nothing else, it's not just them rolling around on the floor pulling each other's hair.
Matt: Josie and Hershey do punch, but there's also the, "Bitch!" "...Judge Bitch!" exchange. Is ABC Warriors, which I've never read, all about easily reprogrammable robots? Because really, this is the second character who's just reached in Hammerstein's head and been able to control him.
Chris: I don't think so, but I haven't read much of it. I'm mostly just into it for the Rob Schneider gut-shooting. Oh hey, did we mention that this entire climax takes place INSIDE THE STATUE OF LIBERTY'S HEAD?
Matt: I think that's only revealed after Rico releases the half-baked clones and tries to escape as everything blows up.
Chris: No, they say it earlier and we literally forgot to mention it because this movie is so f**king dumb at the end.
Matt: How dumb is it? Here's an exchange between Rico and Dredd in their final fight: "I'm the only one who ever loved you." "I'll be the judge of that."
Chris: Astonishing. Eventually, Rico and Dredd have a confrontation while Dredd is hanging from the Statue of Liberty's cheekbones, with Assante chewing scenery in a very enjoyable way. Sadly, he's out of bullets, and Dredd catches him, fires a signal flare for some reason, and then throws him off the statue while dropping Catchphrase #4, "Court is adjourned." Then Hershey shoots Josie. Yay?
Matt: Dredd and Hershey walk out of the Hall of Justice (Was it attached to the Statue of Liberty? Why is it morning now?) to confront a bunch of judges, one of whom offers Dredd the position of chief justice, which he turns down. Hershey kisses him (diss on student guy!) while Rob Schneider expresses his desire to be the one kissing Dredd. Then the last line of the movie is "I knew you'd say that" and I throw up everywhere.
Chris: Dredd making out: Again, not something that I think you'd see in the comics, ever.
Matt: Also: the entire power structure has been wiped out and I don't really know who'd be around to exonerate him. Are they just taking his word for it?
Chris: According to Hershey's underage lover, the computer broadcasted the plan to everyone, but... nothing in that plan really clears Dredd of murder. Man, who the hell cares. Dredd drives off happily at the end. Hooray for fascism!
Chris: The costumes look great. They made a big deal of Gianni Versace doing designs, and we've covered the rejected versions before, but in the end they just went with the actual comic designs. Even though I'm not a huge Dredd fan, I love that crazy-ass costume, and I think it really works in setting up the crazy over-the-top future that the rest of the movie completely fails to deliver on.
Matt: And that's a part of something I said early on: Cannon actually does a pretty good job of creating a living, breathing world in this. Some of the visuals are pretty clearly jacked from other movies, but the city isn't a jumble, or look like a soundstage. It looks like it could be a place.
Chris: Even the Cursed Earth has a nice character to it, and it manages to look worse than the slums of Mega City One.
Matt: It helps that the special effects are generally pretty good, too. With the exception of some really obvious green-screening in the Lawmaster chase, none of it really stuck out to me as bad. I generally didn't even notice it, which is probably the best thing I can say.
Chris: A lot of the explosions and gunfire are practical effects, so that helps. And to be honest, I really like Armand Assante as Rico in this. He's one of those great, scenery-chewing movie bad guys that's fun to watch, and he delivers his lines in a way that you wouldn't really expect from this movie.
Matt: He's terrible at being Stallone's clone, but he's pretty obviously having fun, which you can't really say for anyone else. That said, Diane Lane and Max Von Sydow both do admirable jobs of working with what they have, too.
Chris: So... basically we liked everyone in the cast except the two people we absolutely hated, and who are also the two people the movie is mostly about?
Matt: And Jurgen Prochnow, who couldn't break the barrier of saying words I could understand.
Chris: Well, we're already getting into it, so let's move on to...
Matt: Where to start? I guess with the most obvious problem: This movie is a really broad satire for about 20 minutes, then it becomes a dour, often-boring action movie, with jaunts into buddy comedy within that. It's schizophrenic.
Chris: And bloated. I like fanservice as much as the next guy, but the ABC Warriors and Mean Machine are shoehorned in at best, and distracting at worst. And that's coming from someone who actually knows who they are and why they're here; it's not winning you points with the wider audience.
Matt: And yet it's only 90 minutes! If you're going to cram all this stuff into the movie, make room for it. Otherwise it just seems like you're hitting notes to satisfy...I'm not sure who.
Chris: They lost the hardcore Dredd fans the second Stallone took off his helmet. Then again when he talked about his Trust Issues. Then again when he and Hershey suddenly had a romance arc that ended with making out and catchphrases, assuming any of them were still in the theater.
Matt: Right. Despite its setting and what he wears at the beginning of the movie, this just doesn't feel like a Judge Dredd story. It feels like STALLONE AS JUDGE DREDD. He's just...Stallone. Even as the movie's tone changes, he never stops being Stallone.
Chris: He's really awful, and Schneider... Like, it's hard to blame him because - much like Jim Carrey in Batman Forever - he's just doing exactly what they hired him to do. But man oh man does he stink up the joint.
Matt: He only really does one thing to affect the plot, and that's reprogram Hammerstein. Otherwise, he's just there recite terrible one-liners and go "Oh no!" and "Ahh!" because Stallone has to be stoic when people are shooting at him. We won't know people are shooting at them if no one reacts!
Chris: Most everything that gets introduced does eventually pay off in some form or another - Schneider hacking robots, the guns only recognizing Judges, Hershey's underage lover being a PhotoShop wizard or whatever - but none of it really hangs together or makes any sense. Things just happen in this movie.
Matt: And it's really all connective tissue to take us from one scene where Stallone shoots people to the next. He lost his whole life because of a reporter getting shot and killed, but then he spends a huge amount of the rest of the movie doing that to most of the people he comes into contact with, including other law enforcement officials.
Chris: Here's the worst of it, though: Those beautiful blue eyes? COLORED CONTACT LENSES.
Matt: Rocky didn't have no blue eyes. Armand Assante doesn't have blue eyes, either. Why couldn't they both just have brown eyes, their actual, shared eye color?
Chris: I have never felt more betrayed by a movie in all my life.
Matt: LAW! LAWWWW!
Matt: We've watched some bad movies, Chris. We watched BloodRayne. We watched X-Men 3. This one is the first I found to mostly just be a waste of my time. I gave up trying to understand it.
Chris: Yeah. When we watched BloodRayne, we talked about how at the very least, it's not boring. With this movie, once it stops attempting to be about Judge Dredd and just starts being Demolition Man 2, it's predictable, grating, and rote. It's utterly boring and damn near unwatchable
Matt: Like, when Dredd just lets that Lawmaster crash into the building for no reason, that just says to me the filmmakers all gave up, too.
Chris: Who do you think had a worse time dealing with this movie, us or Danny Cannon?
Matt: Oh, I'm sure Cannon did. This was just one horrible night for us. This was probably a year or so of his life. His name is on this.
Chris: Well, at least he was immortalized in a recent issue of 2000 AD (Prog #1800) as Dan-E Cannon, a rogue defense satellite that Dredd blew up with an explosive canary. And we eventually got a Judge Dredd movie that I liked a lot, albeit one that took 17 years to come out after this one left such a bad taste in the public's mouth, and still had some people thinking it was a "remake."
Matt: With an actor who actually wanted to keep the helmet on, because he's happy to go maskless as bones in that other sci-fi franchise, the Star Tracks.
Chris: True! And who delivered his one-liners in a much more menacing and convincing way!
Matt: I guess if you were going to remake this movie, you'd do what the other movie did, and throw out everything in it.
Chris: Through a window, in slow motion. And with that, we are done with Judge Dredd, but I'm not sure whether to be relieved or terrified. Next week, we take on the only movie in this review series that I haven't already seen: 1995's Tank Girl, starring Point Break's Lori Petty!
ComicsAlliance vs. the '90s: