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‘Judgment Night’ (R)

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 15, 1993

"Judgment Night" is regrettably familiar fare. It follows the travails of a quartet of self-satisfied suburban buddies on a boys' night out to a downtown boxing match; trying to dodge a traffic jam in their rented camper, they drive astray into "the ghetto." What they find is that it's an urban jungle in there, one they are ill-equipped to handle. (But if you saw "Grand Canyon" or "Bonfire of the Vanities," you knew that.)

Unfortunately, there's precious little tension in this cat-and-louse tale, and certainly none of the racial tension one might expect. The filmmakers have made a big deal of a soundtrack that features 10 collaborations between rappers and rockers (the theme is performed by De La Soul and Teenage Fan Club), but their casting consciousness is less adventurous. True, Cuba Gooding Jr. plays one of the four buddies, but this is essentially a white-bread production in which Denis Leary plays the heavy simply by adding a psychotic edge to his motor-mouth MTV rant. Aside from a couple of brief scenes, director Stephen Hopkins basically eliminates the neighbors, preferring to use the disintegrating neighborhood for background scenery.

Problems start when the suburbanites -- Gooding, Emilio Estevez, Stephen Dorff and Jeremy Piven -- stumble upon what they think is a hit-and-run victim curiously reluctant to accept their help. "You guys don't know what you're messin' with," he warns, though they get a good idea when the victim is dragged out of the camper and executed by Leary, apparently displeased with his drug runner's skimming of funds.

"We got to get out of this place," someone wisely suggests, and the rest of the film consists of Leary and Co. chasing Estevez and Co. (Estevez emerges as the leader because he's the only one with a wife and kid at home, and therefore the only one with something to live for -- call it the family values plug). Along the way, the good guys do a lot of bonding -- when they're not at each other's throats -- and they get to discover something important about themselves as they move from macho bravado to mano a mano. You know the routine.

Since the action is mostly night-rooted, the film is very dark as it moves from back alleys and abandoned freight cars, down through sewers and up to tenement rooftops. "This is my world," a disdainful Leary says, but you never believe him. And while Gooding is solid, Estevez is simply never as convincing as a vengefully protective family man as he was coaching the Mighty Ducks. Perhaps that's why Hopkins resorted to that loud and most cliched of action finales, the brawl in a room filled with glass, china and pottery.

"Judgment Night" is rated R and contains graphic violence and explicit language.

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