MOVIE REVIEW | Judgment Night (1993)


In the early to mid 90s, I had a not brief obsession with the Young Guns movies. Between about ’92 and ’95, I’d be surprised if a single week went by without me watching one, or both of those movies. And with the central role as the awesomely cocky Billy the Kid, Emilio Esteves was the main reason those movies seemed so cool to me then. Re-watching them a year or two ago, they still held up. Maybe it was nostalgia for my teen years, or maybe they’re just awesome neo-westerns with great performances by a group of young actors in their prime.

The names Esteves, Sutherland and Diamond Phillips might not top too many marquees these days, but the Young Guns movies caught these dudes at the perfect moment. Just three years later, that Esteves juice had lost enough punch to headline a major block buster, but it still had just enough to snag the lead role in a slightly goofy, pretty cool B picture, Judgment Night.

Opening on the recent father, former hot headed tough guy (Esteves as Frank), he expositionally explains to his wife that he’s going out on a boys’ night for the first time since their baby was born a few months earlier. Picking up Frank in a luxury RV is the rich, materialistic asshole character (Jeremy Piven as Ray). Shortly after, the hot headed tough guy yet to settle down arrives (Cuba Gooding Jr as Mike), just before Frank’s younger, impetuous, tough on the outside, scared on the inside brother (Stephen Dorff as John) gets there to round out this quartet of broad characters who will conflict and compliment each other for the ensuing 100 minutes.

On their way to ringside seats at a boxing match, they get stuck in traffic. Instead of waiting, Ray decides to take a shortcut. A shortcut that leaves them lost in a bad neighbourhood and running over a young gangbanger. Which leads to gaining the attention of local crime boss (Denis Leary as Fallon). Now it’s a cat and mouse game through the ghetto as good guys try to escape the mean streets and make it through the night alive.

That might make you think that Judgment Night is obvious, predictable, overwrought and clichéd. And you’d be right. But Judgment Night is the kind of genre picture that doesn’t just accept this, it turns into the skid and exploits it. It knows its cast are thinly drawn shadows of actual characters. But that just means it quickly skims over the setup at breakneck speed, and gets to the guns, fights, explosions and sewer stand offs that much quicker.

Like I said, I like Emilio Esteves and stand by my 14 year old self’s opinion that he ruled in Young Guns, but he just wasn’t the guy for this movie. Billy the Kid is all hubris and uncontainable id, and Esteves nails it. Frank in Judgment Night is supposed to be this once wild guy, now tamed by the love for his wife and daughter, and he never quite sells it. Luckily, there’s enough B movie guns, fights, explosions and sewer stand offs to make up for it, keeping Judgment Night nimble enough to never get bogged down in the odd piece of miscasting.

Judgment Night
Directed By – Stephen Hopkins
Written By – Stephen Hopkins, Lewis Colick


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