In honor of Friday's release of The Expendables, we're taking a week-long look at the action films of Sir Sylvester Stallone -- which is to say we're skipping his comedies. Out of respect.
Title: Judge Dredd
Setting: Mega City, 2139.
Our hero: Gravel-voiced fascist Judge Dredd (Stallone), the embodiment of Mega City's justice system, where police are the judge, jury and executioner of criminals.
Our villain/s: Rico (Armand Assante), a psychotic killer who also happens to be a former judge and Dredd's childhood best friend – whom he subsequently judged. Also, Judge Griffin (Jurgen Prochnow), a Justice who helps unleash Rico so he can coerce his fellow judges into unlock the "Janus files," which allow the Council to biologically engineer judges using the Justice's DNA. And just for good measure, the Angel family, a group of mutated cannibals who have it in for Mega City's most famous Judge.
The stakes: The safety and security of Mega City. Judge Dredd's good name. And the rapier wit of Herman Ferguson (Rob Schneider), a computer hacker unfairly sentenced to five years in jail by Dredd before he himself is erroneously convicted.
How long until our first confrontation? Five minutes or so. There's an opening-credits sequence that shows how Judge Dredd was originally a comic book character (comic book pages open to reveal images of him), and then there's an opening scroll of exposition that explains it's the future and cops do stuff and other stuff and cities and stuff. Then Dredd intervenes on a citizen riot where two street gangs are shooting at one another from adjacent buildings. Although he rescues Judge Hershey (Diane Lane), his inevitable love interest, Dredd can only avenge the death of another young recruit, which not only reveals his skills as a sharpshooter, but his cold, logical, and of course ultimately flawed way of meting out his violent brand of "justice."
Line of dialogue that nails it: "I never broke the law, I AM THE LAW!"
Coolest display of might: He mostly shoots guns and drives gigantic-ass motorcycles, so there's not a whole lot of "might" involved. But Stallone does manage to deliver the majority of his howl-worthy dialogue with a straight face, and in comparison to Armand Assante, deliver what could be considered a slightly more subtle and nuanced performance.
Is that...? Kaboom! Cameo city, including Ewen Bremner as Junior Angel, Scott Wilson as Pa Angel, James Remar as "Block Warlord," and James Earl Jones as Darth Vader's voiceover.
Moral of the story: Judge Dredd is right, even though he's a little cold-hearted sometimes. Because semi-martial law enforced by a thick-chinned monolith is better than full-fledged martial law enforced by dozens of homicidal thick-chinned monoliths. (I feel like they were still working this one out when the film went into production.)
Stallone Action Scale: 8 out of 10, thanks to some of the most awesome animatronics I've seen in a film (Rico's pet robot looks like a Terminator on steroids, and he's all real). Plus Dredd squares off against Mean Machine, which I have no idea how they did, but looks really great (and reminds me how much I love Simon Bisley's artwork).
Missed Opportunity: Between Diane Lane's appearance in Judge Dredd and Sandra Bullock in Demolition Man, Stallone could have had himself quite a little futuristic threesome. (I'll leave it up to his – and your – imagination whether they use the Demolition Man helmets, or just get down to it 20th Century style.)