Sylvester Stallone has made so many bad movies that the United Nations once considered filing a resolution against him. (It was only after a day of tearful testimony from Talia Shire that they voted to hold off.) He’s made so many bad movies that even the French don’t admire him. He’s made so many bad movies that even Jean-Claude Van Damme looks at him and mutters something incoherent that sounds vaguely like “that guy has made a lot of bad movies.”
Stallone made 11 films in the 1990s, and “Judge Dredd” is typical of them insofar as it’s set in the future (like “Demolition Man”) and Sly plays a good guy who kills a lot of people (like everything else). As with most films set in the future, the cities in “Judge Dredd” are in chaos, there are flying cars everywhere, and the entire populace has adopted one of two fashion choices: all-spandex, or all-rags.
The first person we see is Rob Schneider, which is never a good sign. If you’d been stranded alone on a desert island for 20 years and finally a rescue ship came and Rob Schneider were the first person to walk down the gangplank, you’d say, “No, thanks, I’ll wait for the next one.” In “Judge Dredd,” he plays a low-level computer hacker named Fergie who is paroled and immediately arrested and sent back to prison, giving the viewer a false hope that he’s out of the movie for good.
The arresting officer is Judge Dredd, who in this futuristic, Lycra-wearing society is a cop, judge, and executioner all in one. He’s especially fond of “summary execution,” where he can arrest you for a crime, sentence you to death, and shoot you in the head right there on the spot. This may well be the future of law enforcement. The New York Police Department has been experimenting with it for years.
Dredd is just one of many “street judges” in Megacity, though he’s easily the most passionate about his work, and probably the one with the biggest breasts. His colleague, Judge Hershey (Diane Lane), suggests he might want to consider things like “extenuating circumstances” and “reasonable doubt.” She also asks if he has any emotions. “Emotions?” he replies. “There ought to be a law against them.” LOL GOOD ONE JUDGE DREDD!
Megacity is in the grips of a series of street riots, with the entire system dangerously teetering on the edge of anarchy. Fires, explosions, murders, gang wars — it’s what I imagine Detroit looks like all the time. The government, simply known as the Council, headed by the wise Judge Fargo (Max von Sydow), is concerned about this lawlessness. In fact, the Council is so preoccupied they don’t even realize that the existence of “street judges” makes regular courtroom judges like themselves obsolete. (Shh! Don’t tell them!)
As if all this weren’t enough, a villain named Rico (Armand Assante) escapes from prison, returns to Megacity, and kills a TV news reporter, which is apparently against the law in this bizarro society. Even worse, Rico is disguised as Judge Dredd at the time, which is pretty easy to do, since all street judges wear identical face-covering uniforms and are distinguishable only by their name tags. Rico went to the trouble of making a patch that says “DREDD” to go on the front of his costume, so when the surveillance footage of the murder is examined, Judge Dredd is fingered for it. Dredd asks Hershey to be his lawyer when the case goes before the Council (wait, why didn’t whoever arrested Dredd execute him then and there?), and she makes a dazzling courtroom maneuver by pointing out that you can’t actually see the shooter’s face in the video. Any moron could write “DREDD” across a street judge’s uniform. For drawing attention to this very obvious fact, Hershey is hailed as a legal genius. You can see why this society’s justice system has almost phased out lawyers altogether.
They lose the case anyway, though, because Dredd’s DNA was encoded in the murder weapon. That’s because Dredd and Rico share DNA, which is because they’re both — SPOILER ALERT! — single-celled organisms. No, just kidding. They share DNA because they were both created in a lab as part of a super-secret experiment to clone perfect street judges. Obviously there’s still some work to be done in the testing, since the process is currently yielding Sylvester Stallone and Armand Assante. On the other hand, maybe the prototypes came out looking like Abe Vigoda and Jon Lovitz, and this is progress.
Anyway, Dredd is shipped off to prison, and guess who’s on the transport plane? Fergie! He’s back! It’s like the movie WANTS to have Rob Schneider in it. The plane crashes in the desert, brought down by a family of “The Hills Have Eyes”-style mutant hillbillies, and the only two survivors are — what are the odds? — Dredd and Fergie, and oh my gosh, what if instead of Rob Schneider, Fergie were played by the pop singer Fergie? That would be hilarious!
FERGIE: Hey, Judge Dredd, do you like my lumps? My lovely lady lumps?
DREDD: [fires nine bullets into Fergie’s neck]
Dredd has to go back to Megacity to clear his name and stop Rico, whose big-picture plan is to kill all the street judges with the help of a tall robot that he found in a pawn shop. (The movie doesn’t really explain it any better than that.) I’m sure I do not need to tell you that Dredd, Hershey, and Fergie work together to save the day, making them the most absurdly named heroic trio since Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Fergie never stops cracking unfunny jokes, either, not even after he gets shot in the stomach. This provides a haunting reminder that if you invite Rob Schneider into your movie, it is impossible to make him leave.
As is often the case with futuristic tales based on comic books, “Judge Dredd” is campy and ridiculous, mostly unintentionally. Stallone, despite having appeared in about a dozen movies where he plays impossibly stoic action heroes who grunt pun-based one-liners according to their victims’ manner of death, still can’t do it convincingly — which makes me think he’d look for another direction to take his acting, but I guess he’s happy being the American version of Van Damme.
“Judge Dredd” was a critical and commercial failure. Many viewers who had been fans of the comic book were outraged that the title character’s face was constantly visible, when in the comic he is almost always wearing a mask. Seriously, they were really mad about that. To which I say: CRY, NERDS! YOUR TEARS REJUVENATE ME! That’s a pretty ridiculous reason to dislike a movie, especially when Rob Schneider is right there in front of you.