American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
The first voice we hear in "Judge Dredd" belongs to James Earl (Darth Vader) Jones, reading the words that crawl up the screen, describing a future world in which most of the Earth is a wasteland, and humans huddle in closed, violent megacities. Jones' voice, along with the words crawling up the screen, are reminders of "Star Wars." The fact that he has to read them is a reminder that in 1977, when "Star Wars" came out, audiences didn't need to have them read. We are getting closer to the wasteland every day.
The movie is based on a comic book series about that future time, when anarchy reigns, and the citizens massacre one another in "Block Wars," using machineguns to fight violent battles just for the fun of it, I guess, since the movie never really provides their motivation. The only force for law and order are the Judges - heavily armed and armored cops who double as judge and jury, and often execute criminals right on the spot.
Dredd is played by Sylvester Stallone, who is ideal for a role like this because he's smart and funny enough to pull it off. The screenplay gives him little help, however, with a love interest (Diane Lane) who never really connects, a comic sidekick named Fergie (Rob Schneider) who seems badly out of tune, and a tag line ("I knew you'd say that") that doesn't exactly rank with "Make my day" or even "I'll be back." The special effects are messy and cluttered, but atmospheric; they show us a Megacity that looks like a cross between the cities in "Blade Runner" and "Total Recall," with buildings towering into the sky and gangs rumbling in the streets and helpful neon signs that say things like "Store." Judge Dredd and his partner Judge Hershey (Lane) patrol the streets and shoot it out with bad guys, and Dredd arrests Fergie for being in the apartment of some outlaws Dredd has just killed.
"But I had only been there five minutes!" Fergie cries.