(Second viewing, On TV, January 2018) I saw Judge Dredd in theatres back in 1995, accompanied by a good friend who had already seen the movie and was looking forward to my “wow” reaction at the cityscape revealed early in the film. My reaction to it then is pretty much my reaction to it now—the first half of the film has some worthwhile world building before disintegrating in a forgettable Sylvester Stallone action film—and very little of the movie has anything to do with the original Judge Dredd comic book. (But that’s why we got Dredd in 2012.) Another viewing twenty years later highlights the clumsiness of the adaptation attempt—the film isn’t smart enough to execute the satirical vision of the Dredd comic book, so it comes across as silly most of the time. Still, there is some effort here in trying to create a future (as dark and nonsensical as it can be) and it’s that effort that sustains the film during its first act, and then again at the beginning of its third. Otherwise, though, don’t hope for much. Stallone is his humourless self here (not contributing in the slightest in the film’s satirical potential), while Armand Assante does his best as a featureless antagonist and Rob Schneider is intentionally annoying as a sidekick. Diane Lane and Joan Chen aren’t too bad, though, but that’s a relative assessment when the plot has so little use for them beyond the obvious. We now know that the production of the film was troubled by an ongoing argument between Stallone and director Danny Cannon, each of them pulling in a different direction. The result, sadly, is still with us—worth a look for some of the production values, but definitely not as a cohesive science-fiction film and even less so as a Dredd adaptation.
(In French, On TV, July 2017) I was originally tempted to launch this review by comparing Private Benjamin to the 1981 Bill Murray comedy Stripes, but it’s a comparison that only goes so far: While both movies follow a similar structure in transforming their protagonist from a civilian zero to a military hero, they do look at the same subject from very different perspectives. While Stripes is more of a goofy slob-power fantasy, Private Benjamin is largely about the self-empowerment of a young woman cast adrift. And that carries an entirely different tone, much like the fact of this being a female-led film does lend it a distinctive comic flavour. It does work … but much of the impact of the comedy seems blunted by the intention to have it mean something more. Behind the laughs, and to the conclusion of the movie, Private Benjamin is about tough choices that may or may not lend themselves to giggly laughs. As such, there’s a tension at the heart of the film between Goldie Hawn’s more overtly comic moments (“the army with the condos and the private rooms!”) and its more serious intention of resisting male domination. (But then again this is a movie about a woman whose husband dies on top of her on their wedding night.) It works, but it doesn’t quite click. Some of the material in the beginning is audacious; some of the material in the middle is funny; some of the material at the end is depressing. Hawn herself is great, and she’s supported by a good cast that has an early appearance by Armand Assante. This is one of the rare cases when a remake may be interesting—Most of the themes remain contemporary, and I’m not sure that nearly forty years have changed much in the way women are integrated in US military forces.