Judgment Night (1993): A woefully underrated slice of popcorn absurdity

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‘Mad bollocks’. That’s my collective term for all of the films holding a special place in my heart that are of apex ludicrousness. As I’ve mentioned here previously, one of my tape-worn childhood favourites is Con Air, even the most embarrassing Schwarzenegger flicks strike a chord, and I’ve engaged in impassioned, unironic debates about the many merits of Sly’s Cobra and the brilliantly batshit idiocy that is 1991’s Stone Cold. Cinema that attempts to be serious and fails is worthy of much harsher derision than schizophrenic bubblegum action trash that was seemingly written by a 5-year-old with ADHD, in my humble opinion. These films speak to the kid in all of us who had no responsibilities of any kind. One of the best examples of this is a movie from the early 90s that’s got the cast, the script, the pace and all of the lovable tropes, but its name is seldom spoken in conjunction with the bigger titles, and I’ve always been pretty miffed about that. If you’ve never seen it (in which case I sincerely envy you), this is a little ditty about Judgment Night.

Frank & John Wyatt (Emilio Estevez and Stephen Dorff) are two brothers venturing with friends to watch a much-publicised title boxing match in Chicago. In typical fashion, Frank, as the older brother, is a relatively straight-laced, courteous and personable middle-class everyman with the wife, the children and the plush home with a manicured lawn. John is essentially the impulsive, naively headstrong and slightly twatty kid, but his heart is more or less in the right place. Along with their close friend and similarly likeable yuppie dudebro Mike (Cuba Gooding Jr.), they all jump in the pathetically expensive RV of fourth friend Ray (Jeremy Piven, brilliantly portraying the cock of the group, as there must always be at least one incorrigible cock), and head off to see the fight.

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Encountering the mother of all traffic jams, Ray decides to take a shortcut down a back road into a murky, off-the-map neighbourhood, promptly hitting a man with the RV by accident. The group can only look on as the helpless fellow on the ground is surrounded by four imposing figures and shot to death, proceedings going from ‘Ah, shit!’ to ‘Jesus mother of fucking Christ!’ in mere minutes. The murderers are a quartet of ruthless drug dealers led by Fallon (Denis Leary) a calculating, violent and utterly unconscionable crime boss who rules the terrain that our hapless heroes have obliviously driven into. Provoked by having several potential witnesses to deal with and the fact that said witnesses are a group of naive, inadvertently condescending white-collar bros, the enraged and merciless Fallon and co. proceed to hunt down the protagonists by any means necessary.

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The film is essentially mired in predictability, but the way it achieves its end goals is just so god damn fun, as all distinguishing glorious crap is. Fallon is the embodiment of ‘you pampered little suburban pricks don’t know the streets’, Leary clearly grasping the role with gleeful abandon. His abrasive nighttime world of heroin and firearms is in diametric opposition to the quaint 9-5 existence of the main dudes, but he is also demonstrably intelligent, a fact that the lads ultimately learn the hard way because of their assumption that he’s just another thick-as-shit street tough. Nevertheless, our heroes maintain enough guile and resourcefulness to attempt to make it through the night.

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The performances across the board are as good as you could expect from this kind of picture, everyone serviceably meeting the standards of archetype as opposed to real characters, but it’s cool. Estevez’s Frank Wyatt is the quintessential dark horse, a casually well-to-do man whose life has afforded him many privileges and general coddling, but one who still inexplicably maintains the gumption to both evade and openly engage in combat with the villains. With Frank as the de facto leader of the group, it’s only par for the course that his younger brother is irritatingly contrarian, and peripheral pal Mike is more or less on the same wavelength as Frank with one or two predictable situational divergences. Piven’s utterly selfish douchebag Ray is wonderfully illustrated, a man whose condescending, passive-aggressive bullying of his peers cuts absolutely no shit whatsoever when he’s surrounded by the worst of the worst of crime-ridden, back alley Chicago. It’s clear that director Stephen Hopkins wanted to take a bit of a shot at wannabe-tough, echo chamber dickheads who don’t know what to do when the shit truly hits the fan, and it’s all handled with satisfyingly punchy B-movie exaltation.

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So, if you’re in the mood for a bit of babes-in-the-woods, fish-out-of-water vs seasoned villains schlocky madness, Judgment Night is right up your street. Explosively fun, amusing, dark in all the right places and generally bonkers, it’s a horribly neglected bit of blockbuster-calibre fluff. Denis Leary is proudly self-referential in his capacity as an arsehole in real life (please, if you haven’t heard his tune ‘I’m An Asshole’, Youtube it right now), and he really gnarls the meat off the bone as the sadistic Fallon. Films that are designed purely for fun rarely come tighter than this, and if you love it and feel inclined to bandy it about yourself, that would be great. Ciao.

 

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