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‘Judgment Night’ (R)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 15, 1993

In "Judgment Night," suburban pals Emilio Estevez, Cuba Gooding Jr., Stephen Dorff and Jeremy Piven think they're going to a boxing match. Yuppie hustler Piven has wangled a huge RV for the trip. It has a satellite dish on the roof, plush seating, a great sound system, TV screens and beer. It's time for a great boys night out, but they're late already. So Piven makes an impatient exit off the expressway. The trouble begins -- big trouble for them, even worse for the movie.

They find themselves stuck in a bad part of town, the kind of seedy, deserted landscape you see in MTV videos (strategically scattered trash, excellent backlighting). When Piven takes his eye off the road, the vehicle bumps into something -- or someone. They find a street punk lying on the side of the road.

After hot debate, they decide to run him to a hospital. But they smack into a car, which makes the RV career into a tight space between buildings. The vehicle's dead. The punk's bleeding to death, it turns out, from a gunshot wound. And he's holding on to a stash of money that he should have ponied up to gang leader Denis Leary.

Along comes Leary and company (who belong in jeans ads rather than this part of town) to collect. The horrified friends watch as Leary executes the punk. Oops. Now they're witnesses. The gang comes after them. The suburbanites make a run for it. Estevez sets the RV on fire to keep them back. It blows up.

Nights like this you just want to put behind you.

Screenwriters Lewis Colick and Jere Cunningham, director Stephen ("Nightmare on Elm Street 5") Hopkins and Universal Pictures should have put this behind them. But they're on the prowl for a trashy hit, reality be damned. The soundtrack CD is already climbing the charts. Talent notwithstanding, Estevez and Gooding are clearly just a crossover-audience package. The story is so full of holes and absurdities, you wonder why they didn't air this on the Comedy Channel. Some samplings:

The escapees duck into an abandoned freight car full of Central Casting homeless people. The hobos, who seem to multiply by the minute, demand to be paid off to keep from yelling out. While Leary bangs on train doors from without, the fugitives tear off gold neck chains, open their wallets and pull off wristwatches.

The reason Leary's gang members are anxious to off the involuntary eyewitnesses is to keep the initial murder quiet, but they display no such bashfulness about noisily shooting down apartment doors and beating terrified neighborhood residents to find them.

Initially a voice of reason, Gooding turns increasingly into an embarrassingly wide-eyed near-psychotic as the stakes get more dangerous. "We gotta make a stand," he says, brandishing a pipe -- as heroic music plays on the soundtrack. "I always wondered how I'd do in combat."

Perhaps the ultimate "Judgment" comes from Estevez, who observes: "Nothing about tonight makes sense."

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