Rating: R (continuous violent action)
Length: 96 minutes
Release Date: June 30, 1995
Directed by: Danny Cannon
Genre: Action/Science Fiction/Crime
Stars: 3 out of 5
“Judge Dredd,” which stars Sylvester Stallone and debuted in theaters in June 1995, is an action-packed dystopian film based on a comic strip character. The character of Joseph Dredd originally appeared in the British comic magazine 2000 AD, where he was the focal point of stories from the late 70s through 2000. The stories are set in a bleak future where fighting crime requires desperate measures. A class of police-warriors known as Judges takes over the justice system, tracking, trying, and convicting criminals in one fell blow.
Into this system comes Joseph Dredd, who was cloned from the same DNA as another judge. In the film, Stallone plays Dredd, who is known as one of the toughest judges in the system and, he puts away a lot of criminals. In the process, he also makes a lot of enemies. The part is in keeping with many of Stallone’s roles during the mid-90s, and the character is similar to the one he played in 1993’s “Demolition Man,” although John Spartan was probably a more likable guy than Dredd.
Other notable stars in “Judge Dredd” include Diane Lane as Judge Hershey and Armand Assante as the villainous Rico. Rob Schneider is cast in a questionable role as a comic foil, perhaps in an attempt to add levity to the violent and serious action. For the most part, Schneider’s role is characteristically silly and plays well to those who enjoy the actor’s typical antics. Others may find him dispensable.
The story in the film centers on accusations that Judge Dredd has committed murder. Convicted on DNA evidence, Dredd is sentenced to life in prison, but he continues to maintain his innocence and search for the truth. He discovers that the crime was committed by Judge Rico, who shares his DNA. The ensuing gun battles and explosions rock the screen and make this flick a favorite for action fans, even years after the original release.
Comic fans and purists do have bones to pick with the film, stating that Stallone’s version of Dredd falls far from the original depiction. Critics fault director Danny Cannon for introducing numerous elements into the story that are in direct contrast to the world created by the original comics. Specifically, Dredd develops a romance with Judge Hershey, which is forbidden in the comics. Perhaps in a nod to Stallone’s star power, Dredd removes his helmet and his face is shown throughout the film, which is something that never occurred in the comics. Purists may notice other differences, from major plot-points to tiny details, that make the movie contentious for die-hard Dredd fans.
Most viewers will forgive such liberties, especially since numerous publishing houses have spun their own versions of the character, including DC Comics. In classic 90s Stallone-style, this film is more explosion than contemplation and the dialogue reflects that. Even so, “Judge Dredd” hits home with individuals who want a flick that is full of fun and action.
The character of Judge Dredd itself is iconic on some level, as is revealed by the 2012 attempt at bringing him back to the big screen. In “Dredd,” Karl Urban takes on the role previously played by Stallone, delivering a visceral performance that may come a bit closer to the original Dredd mythology. Still, the 2012 movie didn’t completely satisfy purists and it disappointed many fans who remembered Stallone’s shock-and-awe days with fondness. The 2012 movie did benefit from better effects technology and the ability to deliver in 3-D. The 1995 movie suffers a bit from dated special effects that are noticeable to modern-day viewers.
Like many Stallone flicks, “Judge Dredd” has developed a cult following, and there are those who will watch the movie again and again. It is one of those films that dads like to introduce to their teenage sons, and people of all ages get secretly excited when it hits Showtime. While “Judge Dredd” may not be the most artistic movie and certainly doesn’t have the strongest plotline of Stallone’s films, it is a fun flick worth the 96 minutes it takes to watch. Viewers who can look past the outdated special effects and rigid dialogue will enjoy this futuristic justice system and the hard-hitting action brought by Stallone and Assante.