Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Film Appreciation - Don't Move. Don't Whisper. Don't Even Breathe.

Judgment Night takes Cody Hamman back in time for Film Appreciation.

I was 10 years old when Judgment Night, after a theatrical release in October of 1993, was released on home video. By the time my first viewing of the movie on a rented VHS had finished, I was certain that I had just watched one of the coolest movies ever made.

The film follows a group of friends from the Chicago suburbs as they head out on a "guys night out" to see a boxing match. Of this group, we know that Frank Wyatt (Emilio Estevez) is our hero because he's the one who has to leave responsibilities - a wife and a newborn daughter - behind to go on this excursion, the first time he's been out since his child was born three months earlier. He also has to watch out for his hot-tempered younger brother John (Stephen Dorff), who's invited to the match when another friend can't make it. The group is rounded out by Frank's longtime pals Mike Peterson, a ladies man played by Cuba Gooding Jr., and Jeremy Piven as a wheeler dealer named Ray Cochran, who has lied his way into procuring a tricked-out RV for the night.

That RV gets stuck in a traffic jam on the way to the venue in the city, a jam which Ray decides to get around by taking the nearest exit. In the age of GPS, they may have been able to easily find their way back to the freeway, but this being '93, they quickly get lost in a rundown, desolate neighborhood.

Missing the boxing match becomes the least of their problems when, while Ray is distracted from watching the road, a person runs out in front of the RV and gets clipped. When the guys bring the young man they hit onto the RV to get him to a hospital, they find that the injuries from getting hit by the vehicle are the least of his problems - he has a gunshot wound. He was shot for stealing the money he has in a small bag.

That money was stolen from a criminal kingpin named Fallon (Denis Leary), who shows up with a handful of his lackeys and smashes into the RV with a car, totaling it. The thief is pulled out of the RV and executed in front of the outsiders. And, of course, Fallon has a strict "No witnesses" policy.

The rest of the film consists of Fallon and his goons pursuing Frank, John, Mike, and Ray with murderous intent. Out of their element and in a neighborhood where the police don't come, the suburbanites who just wanted to watch a fight now find themselves fighting for their lives. The killers track them through a railyard, into the sewer, through apartments and abandoned buildings, even across rooftops - the film's standout setpiece involves the group making their way across a rickety ladder from one roof to another, while the ladder threatens to drop them into the alley far below.

Ray finds out that his fast talk doesn't work in this situation, Mike always wanted to see how he'd do in combat and gets a little too into that mindset, John realizes he isn't as tough as he thought, and Frank finds the fight he used to have in him before he went soft and got married, but also figures out that home life with his new family isn't something he should be seeking to escape from.

Guns are fired, there are physical altercations, lives are lost... And that's really all there is to the movie. It's one long stalk, chase, and fight sequence, during which the thrills and suspense never let up for too long.

The movie's action, characters, and pace certainly worked for me when I was 10. I was captivated by this flick, I watched it over and over again. I clearly remember one day when I watched it through six times in a row, rewinding the VHS and starting it over again from the start as soon as it ended. As I often did for movies I liked when I was young, I even wrote up a fan fiction sequel.

My Judgment Night fandom came about at right around the same time as I was calling Young Guns my favorite movie, and I grew up watching the Mighty Ducks films, so that gives you an idea of why I'll always consider Emilio Estevez one of my favorite actors.

Denis Leary brings his Denis Leary-ness to Fallon, with the bad guy getting a few chances to monologue. Cuba Gooding Jr. and Stephen Dorff do fine work, and Jeremy Piven makes the foolish Ray almost completely unlikeable.

Peter Greene, who would be in the next year's Pulp Fiction, plays Fallon's right hand man, while one of the other henchmen is played by Erik "Everlast" Schrody of House of Pain, the group who had just had a huge hit with "Jump Around" in 1992.

This was director Stephen Hopkins' first movie after he made Predator 2, and even though three years had passed, some of that Predator 2 look and feel is still here. The neighborhood the characters make their way through feels almost otherworldly at times, which works since this is a different world to the guys on the run. The score by Predator composer Alan Silvestri boosts that Predator-esque feeling.

I doubt anyone who checks out Judgment Night for the first time today will be as blown away by it as I was in 1994, I can't even really say just why I was so enthralled with it at the time, but it does still hold up for me as a solid action thriller.

What the movie really does for me now is make me incredibly nostalgic. Until recently, I hadn't watched Judgment Night in almost twenty years, but when I started watching it again in late 2014, those 1994 viewings immediately came back to me. I remembered the images, the scenes, the music, the lines. For that reason, it was wonderful to revisit, and because of that period of time when I was somewhat obsessed with it, Judgment Night will always be an important movie to me.

1 comment:

  1. I went to the theaters to see this back in '93 and enjoyed it. It is a solid thriller, as you say. Good review.