“I am the law’. When I was a kid, a comic called 2000AD was a thing. It had visceral, well-drawn comic strips like one inspired by Rollerball about some kind of ultra-violent sport (Harlem Heroes!). Another was an adaptation of the old Dan Dare strip, complete with arch enemy the Mekon, a character who later captured the British public imagination rebooted as unelected politico Dominic Cummings. But the most popular stories were those involving Judge Dredd, a tough lawman whose antics are best described as a ‘futuristic Dirty Harry.’ Without removing his helmet, Dredd kicked ass and took names, squashing any sense of rebellion in the futuristic hellscape of Mega City 4.
Danny Cannon’s 1995 film horrified purists by being more of a Sylvester Stallone vehicle that a Judge Dredd film, but living in the future circa 2021, the much derided result doesn’t seem too bad at all. Cannon was much mocked at the time as a British Tarantino, but Dredd sees him aspiring to be Paul Verhoeven, with a helmeted hero a la Robocop, some funny touches (beer-serving drones), locker-room scenes and quasi-fascist imagery meshed with subversive humour. In this version, Dredd is framed and sent to a space-slammer, where he hooks up with sidekick Rob Schneider and sets out to prove his innocence. A lot of time is expended exploring the political world of the future, with various smartly-dressed factions including Max von Sydow as a fair-minded patriarch, Jurgen Prochnow as his corrupt replacement, and Diane Lane as a space-lawyer assigned to defend Dredd. Of curse, Dredd can take care of himself, and brushes off the setbacks to reign supreme over his enemies, one grenade-launcher at a time.
Without over-selling the unpopular result, Judge Dredd has a terrific sheen to it; Mega City 4 looks fantastic with lots of flying cars, although the pirate wasteland that Dredd is cast into is something of a drag. The cast are wildly overqualified, with Ewen Bremner, Ian Dury and Maurice Roëves all contributing nice bits, the latter the victim of a vicious prison-break scene featuring Armand Assante as chief villain Rico. Acting like Dennis Hopper playing Dennis Hopper, Assante is supposedly Dredd’s brother, but instead causes no end of bother as he tries to awaken a race of genetic mutants in an underwhelmingly generic climax.
The flying motorcycles look as stiff and unwieldy as the Judge’s costume, designed by Versace, but the action sequences are violent, exciting, and more than fit the bill. Stallone’s something of a bore here in a role that should have been ideal, but the hard-edges of the character have been softened too much to land. With a great aerial chase scene, lots of cool guns and gadgets, and a 30’s serial mood, this Judge Dredd is above the law when it comes to mindless fun.
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