Stallone's newest isn't that good but isn't dreadful


This is hard for me, folks. I don't know if I can do it.

Sylvester Stallone has finally made a good mov --

No. I can't do it. My fingers refuse to obey my mind. I am ordering them to type: "Sylvester Stallone has finally made a good movie" and they will not do it.

Let's try: Sylvester Stallone's new film, "Judge Dredd," isn't that bad.

See how easy that was?

And it gets better: He's the worst thing in it.

Derived from a legendary British comic book, the movie offers Stallone, blimpy with muscle (he appears to have muscles in his lips!) and as rigid as a statue of Stalin, as a combination cop-judge-jury-executioner in the chaotic future, who goes around on something that resembles a cross between a Harley-Davidson and a flying vacuum cleaner. If you're especially naughty, he blows your head off. From face man to fascist in a single leap!

I hate to go out on a limb, but I'd be willing to bet that the director Danny Cannon has seen "Blade Runner" and "RoboCop." Of course "Judge Dredd" is much lighter, sillier and goofier than either of those two classic films, with their dark projections of modern collapse into the future.

The most impressive thing about the film is its physical production: the nasty tomorrowland that Cannon imagines looks like the Columbia Mall on a citywide bad hair day. It's teeming with colorful crazies, and block war keeps breaking out as the heroic 1400s try to wipe out those nasty 1500s. Only the Judges keep the whole teapot from exploding.

The plot is actually a true variation on the much-parodied but rarely seen evil-twin theme. It seems that Dredd and a nasty super criminal called Rico (Armand Assante at his most florid) share some DNA; both were bred for duty-dedication, which explains Dredd's narrow, rigid, humorless personality.

But Rico didn't turn out and now, years later, he's back, at the behest of an evil politician, waging guerrilla war to increase the chaos and tip Mega-City One toward dictatorship. This does seem to suggest a biological paradox: How could Stallone and Assante be related? Assante can actually act.

Anyway, a key element in the plot is the framing of Judge Dredd for one of Rico's murders. The Judge manages to escape on the way to the Aspen Penal Colony (nice touch) in the company of little Rob Schneider, ex of "Saturday Night Live" (you know, back when it was good). Schneider probably makes himself a movie star here. He's very funny, particularly playing off the tectonic plates that make up Stallone's huge granite face.

In an attempt to convey moral rectitude, Stallone appears to be sucking on a bottle cap for most of the movie. His mouth has the look of an upside-down smile button, a frown of such bitter intensity that you think, "This boy needs to go out on a date, real bad."

The date is provided by Diane Lane as a tough-talking fellow judge (the model is clearly the Peter Weller-Nancy Allen relationship in "RoboCop"), but the two don't relate nearly as well as Stallone and Schneider do.

Cannon makes a few formal mistakes. The climax is sadly not enough. He needed to top himself and he doesn't, settling for that old fistfight-on-a-skyscraper thing. It doesn't come close to beating the movie's best sequence, a wild, violent chase on those Hoover-Harley things, amid tracer bullets, exploding buildings and wisecracks.

But the movie does a neat job of replicating the colorful syntho-pop world of a comic strip. You wouldn't want to live there, but it's an amusing place to visit.

"Judge Dredd"

Starring Sylvester Stallone, Rob Schneider and Armand Assante

Directed by Danny Cannon

Released by Hollywood Pictures

Rated R (extreme violence)

** 1/2

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