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‘Judge Dredd’ (R)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
June 30, 1995

Earth in the third millennium is an overpopulated, post-apocalyptic hellhole policed by a force of pea-brained meatheads exemplified by Sylvester Stallone's "Judge Dredd." Created by merging the overworked police force with the sluggish judicial system, Dredd is an anachronistic cross between RoboCop and Judge Wapner. He has the power to make the arrest, judge the accused and execute the sentence on the spot.

So much for Court TV.

Stallone probably sees the film as a Sly satire of the current quagmire in the courts. But it's just another tired action-adventure, a noisy shoot'em-up that skimps on story while counting on special effects to disguise its plot holes and hollow core. Problem is, "Dredd's" not only don't dazzle, they've virtually all been done before.

Though based on a popular British comic book, "Judge Dredd" feels fished from Tinseltown's recycling bins. Screenwriters William Wisher of "The Terminator" and Steven E. de Souza of "Die Hard" even cannibalized their own hits in the vain hope of finding a new mission for another pumped-up palooka of pulp derivation. Creatively, they've hit the wall.

The story takes place in Mega-City One, a murky metropolis that recalls the atmosphere of "Blade Runner," slightly splattered with "Batman" guano. A block war is underway in Ground Zero, a squalid sector built on the ruins of New York City. Given a population of 65 million in the Mega-City, a block equals Bosnia.

Other judges are trying to put down the insurrection, but the fighting continues to escalate. Then, into the melee rides Judge Dredd on his heli-chopper, a flying Harley with multiple gun mounts and golden mud flaps. The camera begins a slow, reverent pan of this godlike being, from the steel-tipped toe of his manly biker boots to the twisted, sneering lips. The rest of his face is hidden by his helmet. (Sometimes even the sneer is obscured by Dredd's enormous golden epaulets, which recall the staircases in Busby Berkeley production numbers.)

It is an introduction worthy of a living legend, right down to the stentorian strains of the soundtrack. Finally, he speaks—no easy feat with a lip curled like that. "I am duh law," he grunts.

His very presence inspires dread in the hearts of miscreants, so the war is practically history from the moment he arrives. Dredd has merely to collar, sentence and execute a few bad guys before the "credits" roll.

Well, actually there's a little more. Judge Hershey (Diane Lane) can't help but notice how quickly Dredd invokes the death sentence these days. She suggests some time off for this workaholic without friends, family or outside interests. Alas, corrupt Judge Griffin (Jurgen Prochnow) and the fiendish clone Rico (Armand Assante) are preparing to take control of Mega-City One. To ensure success, they frame Dredd for murder and sentence him to life in Aspen Prison. Of course, it's not as easy to get rid of the resolute lawman as these creeps think.

British greenhorn Danny Cannon directed this bloated retread. His pacing is uneven and would be relentless were it not wryly alleviated by the star's sidekick, Rob Schneider of "Saturday Night Live." Aside from the affable Schneider and the able Lane, the cast seems to be in deep shock. Um, make that Dredd lock.

Judge Dredd is rated R.

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