Mega-City One's toughest Judge - Dredd (Stallone) has a reputation for relentlessness and incorruptability, but is framed for murder by a ruthless colleague. Sent to a prison beyond the city's walls, out in the Cursed Earth, he has to figure a way back in to clear his name.
Sly Stallone's latest foray into futuristic law enforcement isn't the witty adventure Demolition Man was. But, based on the celebrated ripple-jawed character from cult UK comic book 2000AD, it still makes entertaining sci-fi action for fans craving more blood and guts than the younger-pitched Batman Forever.
It's the 22nd Century and in an enclave called Mega City One surrounded by the devastated "Cursed Earth", social order is in the hands of Judges, a force with the authority of police officer, judge, jury and executioner rolled into one, who zoom around in spiffy uniforms with great gadgets protecting the Haves from the understandably agitated Have Nots. Living legend Judge "I Am The Law" Dredd (a leaner, appropriately severe, helmet-offing Stallone) is tough, uncompromising and, frankly, a fascist - at least until he's framed by the even more extreme Judge Fargo (Jurgen Prochnow).
Conspiracy, naturally, is afoot, in a genetic mutation fiddle that yields the line "Send in the clones!" and a power snatch scenario in which renegade Rico (Assante) obliges as Sociopath Of The Week. Diane Lane looks good in leather and Saturday Night Live alumnus Rob Schneider provides a cowardly comic sidekick for sinew-shredding Dredd. Aside from Stallone's occasional twinkle - delivering Dredd's limited repertoire of kick-ass catch phrases - it's the production design and special effects that engage. Evidently admirers of Blade Runner and Star Wars (catch Max Von Sydow's Obi-Wan-ish manifestation), the visuals veer startlingly from stunning to laughably ropey (an aerial chase set-piece when one presumes the budget imploded). But Cannon's rough-around-the-edges direction doesn't betray Dredd's comic strip origins, and this is reasonable fun in the brute-as-hero line.
There's a few things done right, but they are outweighed by many misfires. Comic book it may be, but it's not meant to be Saturday morning cartoons.