Judgment Night (1993), or Four Friends Plus One Wrong Turn Equals Thrill-A-Minute Action!

18 12 2009

Judgment Night is a quick, cheap thriller from the early 90s that comes packing a lot of heat. Starring some fairly talented actors and featuring a solid premise that really ratchets up the mood, I found this to be a movie that worked based on its eerie reminder of reality. Something I had never known about the urban sprawl of Chicago, which a number of people, former residents and the like, have opened my eyes to is the fact that there are entire blocks, entire areas of old Chicago that are veritable ghost towns. Nobody goes there, police don’t even patrol around there, so it is an absolutely perfect place to be mugged and murdered. One of these areas, a casualty of modern urban planning, is the setting for Judgment Night, and the old side of town becomes a character itself as the main characters play cat and mouse with a killer within its striking old confines.

It starts out as just another night on the town with a couple of friends. Four middle-aged buddies from the suburbs decide to go out to a boxing match downtown and have a good time. One of them can’t go at the last minute, so one of them, Frank, decides to supplement him with his younger brother. They go in a swank 90s RV supplied by one of the friends, and they are having a great time at first. But after the gang takes a wrong turn, they end up on the broken and run-down side of Chicago. The friends start panicking, while Frank’s brother starts rambling about how soft they are and how they don’t know what it’s like to live on the street. But this is all quickly silenced when they hit someone in the barren old streets. He appears to be a dingy thug with a bullet wound and a bag full of money. They try to get him to a hospital, but they are soon dragged into more trouble than they bargained for as the man who the money belongs to, a psycho named Fallon, begins to stalk them, and will not rest until he gets his money back and kills anyone with any evidence on his crimes. The four must use all their wits to keep from becoming another victims of Fallon and his goons, and may just have to resort to going dark places they never imagined on a fateful, terrifying night that will change them forever.

What a scary premise! The thought of being chased down vigorously by anyone is pretty freaky, but adding Dennis Leary to the mix is just plain out of bounds! Judgment Night does not have a whole lot to it. It is a simple thriller with no twists, just the anxiety of being chased through the wrong side of town by men with guns. It’s extreme simplicity is startlingly effective. That, coupled with the dark reality of life on the streets makes it a pretty jarring movie at times.

A problem, though, comes with the execution of it all. This seems a rather sloppy production as far as maintaining a mood goes. There’s really no cohesive effort to create any sense of suspense or danger. Judgment Night just shows you bad guys with weapons and expects you to feel really upset. The music doesn’t really match, and when it does, it’s weak and dated, serving only to drag you out of whatever feeling you were heading towards. The cinematography is not really all that dark for something taking place at night; it reminds me of a dimly-lit music video. And the actors aren’t really that good here. Emilio Estevez is on his A-game, but Cuba Gooding Jr. and Stephen Dorff are on total cruise control, completely botching the rapport between the guys with their very scripted character. I was hoping for a little more from Dennis Leary, who has come into success as an actor, finally, with Rescue Me. But back then, he was struggling for a shot, and I honestly don’t think he could have raised it that much with this little-seen action-suspense film.

Judgment Night is written well, and it has a very interesting idea behind it, but style and execution are rarely the same thing. I feel like it could have been a lot better, if they had chosen to make more of a drastic situation out of it, with more to lose on all accounts, even the audience’s. But for what it is and when it was made, I wont be too tragically harsh on it. I would see it again if it came on tomorrow. I would probably change it back to another station constantly, but I would still see it again! I give Judgment Night 6 1/2 spooky sides of Chicago out of 10!

Tomorrow I take a look at The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai! Until then!!!