Judgment Night

The seasons may have changed but I’m still finding old pieces of writing that I think are worth presenting here.  Take this 1993 review of the movie Judgment Night, for instance.  I was in my first semester at Mohawk College when I started writing critiques for the student newspaper, The Satellite.  Looking back, and I’ve said this before, I really should’ve allowed myself more time to write and submit more opinion pieces.  But my studies took up a lot of my time and I never just wrote something for the sake of writing it.  I was very particular then about what to write and what to submit to the paper.  Most of what I submitted did find space in several editions.  Judgment Night is not one of those pieces.  It is another previously unseen item making its debut here.
While cleaning up here at home this year I found an old hand-written copy of the review.  I can’t remember now if I ever typed it up, saved it on a computer disk and offered it up for consideration at The Satellite.  I wasn’t able to find an electronic copy so my guess is I didn’t think it was worth handing in to the entertainment editor.  I’ve since re-read it a couple of times and believe that, essentially, it’s a good piece that deserves to be shown here.
However, I have made numerous changes to the manuscript.  For instance, in the opening sentence, I made a derogatory remark about Denis Leary.  Without naming him directly, I call him an "overrated stand-up comic".  I’ve deleted that because it’s an untrue statement.  Looking back, I don’t remember if I ever saw any of his routines so why I would write that is beyond me.  I wanted to criticize his performance in Judgment Night but just couldn’t find the right words to do so.  I’ve dropped the word "overrated" and replaced it with "angry" instead.  All the other alterations are related to grammar and pacing.  A deletion here, a re-worked sentence there.  That kind of thing.  This re-edited version of the review is a lot better than the original.
You’ll notice during the review that I praise Jeremy Piven who has become a major TV star thanks to his Emmy-winning performance on Entourage.  Back in the early 90s, he was popping up in a number of films.  Some were good (White Palace, Singles), some were great (The Player, The Grifters, Heat) and some were just plain terrible (PCU).  The absolute worst film he appeared in was Car 54, Where Are You?, (which also starred Rosie O’Donnell who embarrassed herself far more than she ever did in Exit To Eden, the bad film she does acknowledge publicly). 
It was rare for me to like Piven in a movie.  I only remember the bad movies he was in and not the good ones.  (He seemed to be on-screen more in the bad ones.)  I realize now that it was the mediocre material he was working with that directly affected his acting and no matter what he did, he couldn’t win me over.  The truth is he’s a funny, talented actor as he proved during his stint on The Larry Sanders Show.  (Remember he was the horndog writer constantly getting into trouble?) 
Sometime in the future, I hope to get caught up with Entourage.  In the meantime, enjoy this reworked review.   
By Dennis Earl
Stephen Hopkins’ JUDGMENT NIGHT tells the story of how 4 good buddies make plans for one night’s entertainment and, after making a crucial error, find themselves running from an angry stand-up comic.  The movie stars Emilio Estevez, Cuba Gooding Jr., Stephen Dorff and Jeremy Piven as those 4 gung-ho guys.  Estevez is a newlywed with a young baby, Gooding is a studly tough guy, Dorff is Estevez’s younger, scrappy brother and Piven is a paranoid alcoholic with a skill in business negotiations.
The film begins with the arrival of Gooding, Dorff and Piven at Estevez’s house.  They’re all excited about attending a boxing card – they’ve got ringside seats – and a couple of the men have even placed bets on each fighter in the main event.  Piven provides the transportation in the form of a very swanky trailer complete with TV-Satellite hook-up, a bar and even a loud speaker.  Even before the men begin their driving expedition there is tension between them.  Dorff was a last-minute replacement for another buddy who cancelled.  He is not welcomed warmly by Piven.
It is nighttime when the snazzy R/V hits the expressway but there is a lengthy delay in traffic.  Meanwhile, as the boys are watching one of the undercard fights on TV, Piven tries to squeeze into another lane but ends up in a brief argument with an obnoxious driver who will not permit their passing.  Both cars cease to move while the men take their traffic frustrations out on each other right on the expressway.
Later on, Piven decides to take the R/V down a detour leading towards the loneliest and grubbiest part of the city.  It is this "brillliant" idea that sends the four men on a path of ridiculousness.  After witnessing the murder of a man who betrays Denis Leary (Oh no!), a routine chase picture ensues.  All 4 of our heroes run for their lives while the oh-so-unfrightening Leary and his cronies hunt them through the projects.
JUDGMENT NIGHT is one of those films where everything changes after somebody makes one stupid mistake.  Constantly throughout the picture we are reminded that the predictable action plot would not be occurring were it not for that "one wrong turn".  If those 4 guys remained on the expressway watching the fight on TV until the traffic eased up so they could actually watch the rest of the card in person, nothing bad would’ve ever happened to them.  They would’ve never witnessed that murder and they wouldn’t be running for their lives in a bad part of town.  Had Piven simply put up with the traffic congestion, the formula plot developments that followed that "one wrong turn" would not have been draining the audience’s enjoyment of the film.
Despite my strong reservations for the film, there are some good performances delivered by Cuba Gooding, Jr., Stephen Dorff and especially Jeremy Piven who is the only actor who shows genuine fear for his life.  Also, the cinematography is well done.  However, the film as a whole isn’t realistic enough to be convincing and doesn’t provide the necessary entertainment value to keep you watching.  Avoid JUDGMENT NIGHT but rent GRAND CANYON instead.  It’s much more compelling.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, October 3, 2006
8:08 p.m.
Published in: on October 3, 2006 at 8:43 pm  Leave a Comment  

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