J is for Judgment Night

“Attention food shoppers. We have a special over at the frozen food department. Dead meat.”

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Frank (Emilio Estevez) and best buddies Mike (Cuba Gooding Jr.) and Ray (Jeremy Piven) are joined by Frank’s little brother John (Stephen Dorff) on a lads night out to a local boxing show in downtown Chicago. The only problem is that they take a wrong turn, end up witnessing a gangland murder and badass crime boss Fallon (Denis Leary) really doesn’t want them to see the next morning.

Ok, so fairly basic plot there with the promise of some tense, heart in the mouth moments. Well, not really.

While I like Estevez, he’s never really been the most dramatic actor and really fails to make us care anything for his character throughout the whole movie. Gooding Jr. is typecast as the “hard man” of the bunch, Piven is the fast talking funny one and Dorff is the complicated, misunderstood, ticking time bomb who keeps getting put in his place by his big bro’ in a weird “don’t make the same mistakes I did” type of fashion. Gooding Jr’s character alludes to the fact that Estevez has “changed” now that he’s married with a kid on the way but it’s never really explained much more than that. This is all cleverly summarised by a short (but very forced) road rage disagreement with another driver on the freeway.

Wanting to skip a traffic jam en route to the boxing arena, Piven takes his loaned RV off the freeway and embarks on a shortcut through an eerily quiet rundown neighbourhood. A couple of wrong turns later and the whole group starts to panic. In the midst of the panic, the RV collides with a man wandering across the street. They try to help him only to discover that he is suffering from a bullet wound and carrying a bag with shit loads of cash in it.

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A few short minutes later they are being attacked by a group of criminals, who end up killing the wounded man and pledge to leave no witnesses. Our gang then decides to burn the RV and make a run for it.

Oh I forgot to mention that none of them have a phone signal…

And so our helpless (and clueless) gang of grown men leg it from what they think is safe retreat to safe retreat. Remember this is a dodgy – and very weirdly empty – neighbourhood in Chicago so they have no friends and everyone they meet has a sinister unknown reason not to aid them from gun wielding gangsters.

Their journey leads them from an abandoned train, where they end up giving up some personal items to homeless people, to a semi-abandoned apartment block where they eventually get some assistance from one of the tenants, only to be asked to leave minutes later.

Hot on their tracks is Leary’s formidable and very cocky gangland boss Fallon, who retrieves Frank’s wallet from one of the homeless men. Now it gets a little more interesting. Now it becomes personal, which makes the stakes a lot higher. Now that he knows who he is chasing (and more importantly who his family are) Fallon begins a more intrusive dialogue with Frank, which does throw up some conflict between the group.

The whole apartment block sequence is quite laughable and not in a good way. Nobody really seems to care that Fallon and his goons are terrorising these people and the tenants seem quite happy just to sit tight and ignore what is happening outside their doors.

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While on top of the building, and after a fairly tense ladder crawl to an adjacent rooftop, Piven’s character chooses to stay behind, deciding that now is the time to try and indulge in conversation with their pursuers. There is literally no reason why he would think this…but anyways…

It doesn’t end well and Piven falls to his death. The rest of our “heroes” escape to a nearby sewer where they eventually decide that they can’t run anymore. Somehow they get their hands on one of the gangsters guns and end up killing him. Then they decide that actually, they should keep running…

But at least they now have a weapon.

So they keep running, and running, and running and the whole time they don’t come across a phone box or bump into anyone who can help. Well except for a bus that just drives on. I guess the driver just didn’t like the look of them. They come up with the idea of breaking into a department store thus triggering the alarm which will send out a bunch of extremely competent police officers to save the day.

No.

The officers who eventually turn up don’t want to listen to anything they have to say and simply assume that if they don’t arrest them immediately that the world will end. Fallon once again turns up and outsmarts them. Cue another game of hide and seek throughout the store. Shots are fired, bodies fall and amidst all this, Fallon seems to be genuinely enjoying it all like this is some sort of schoolyard game. To his credit Denis Leary does a smashing job here. Although some of the dialogue between him and Frank is quite cringe-worthy and unbelievable.

Anyways, all works out in the end. Frank and Fallon fight for a bit before Fallon falls to his death. And then a sea of police cars finally show up. Fucking typical!

Overall, despite it’s questionable dialogue, dodgy acting, ridiculously coincidental plot points and absurd decision making from it’s main characters, it was a decent fun action thriller. Remember this was made back in the early 90’s, when silly, yet enjoyable “realistic” action flicks were the norm so I can’t be too harsh. It’s unfortunate that it’s best remembered for it’s rock/rap collaborative soundtrack.

I wonder who won the boxing match.

5/10

Gavin Logan – Follow me on Twitter

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3 thoughts on “J is for Judgment Night

  1. I remember watching this awhile back and while it wasn’t all that bad, it wasn’t really good either. Actually, pretty hokey if you ask me. Good review.

  2. Well written review. I am pretty sure I rented this in the good old days of Blockbuster. I am also quite sure that I thought it was painfully average. And so did you!

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