It is the Third Millennium and humankind are packed like sardines into huge cities situated in the middle of vast deserts. In one such city, Fergie (Rob Schneider), who has recently been released from prison, has been deposited to one of the massive tower blocks to live with the other citizens, but if he was hoping for a quiet life then he will be let down as there is a riot going on when he arrives. He ends up in the same room as a gang of gun-toting ne'erdowells who are causing much of the trouble, until the arrival of the city's street judges, and one in particular: Judge Dredd (Sylvester Stallone), the toughest lawman around. But even he has a secret in his past he doesn't know about...
A highly individual biopic of the British purveyor of comedy reggae songs - no, wait, wrong Judge. This was the would-be blockbuster that left comic-reading 2000 A.D. fans with their heads in their hands as Stallone rode roughshod over one of their favourite characters, and one of those fans was director Danny Cannon. Word had it that the star had difficulty taking the anti-hero seriously and made constant demands for rewrites, which may explain why Dredd gets a lesson in being more human to become a more fully rounded citizen of the world.
What namby-pamby bleeding heart liberalism was this? Judge Dredd, acting like a bullied child trying to stand up for himself? Basically, all goes well until he takes off his helmet, something he never (or extremely rarely) did in the comics, so we can gaze upon the phizog of Stallone: you couldn't have a blockbuster where the star's face is obscured, was the apparent thinking, forgetting the lesson of Robocop. There's irony, the Dredd rip-off eighties hit enjoyed a better grasp of the territory than the supposed real thing, and that's what was missing, true irony, with all the satirical fun of the original played entirely straight.
The plot goes out of its way to humble Dredd when his clone brother Rico (Armand Assante) escapes from jail and embarks on a campaign of chaos, all with mysterious backing from someone in high places. Rico, having the same DNA as Dredd, frames him for the murder of a journalist and not even his sidekick Judge Hershey (Diane Lane dons the helmet more often than Stallone does) can get him acquitted. So off our man goes to prison, except his transport is shot down by The Angel Family en route, and he has a chance to escape. Plus he also gains a new sidekick in the form of Fergie (Schneider labouring under second rate wisecracks).
Yet, the film is not a complete disaster. In making something defiantly run of the mill out of inspired source material, some of that magic peeps through. The ABC Warrior, a large and powerful robot, is a splendid creation, and the twisted, God-fearing Angel Family capture a spirit that the project could have used a lot more of. The production design, too, shows plenty of care and attention, with the MegaCity at once cramped and enormous. The cast are filled out with name actors; Max von Sydow is notable for yet another career choice that's beneath him (I suppose they can't all be Flash Gordons) and Ian Dury turns up in a cameo. But there's a sense of the man at the heart of the action, Stallone, getting it all wrong and this sabotages the mood - it should have been over-the-top cynical but it's simply another blanded-out underachiever. Music by Alan Sylvestri.