I don’t quite remember if in 1993, “Judgment Night” was a hit at the box office. If not, it surely deserved to be. Watching this movie is like a show, and it presents audiences with its ups and downs of cinematic action that you’ll remember for a while. Emilio Estevez is an unlikely hero, Denis Leary is a surprisingly horrifying villain, and Cuba Gooding Jr. with his constant gaping jaw, shivering flared nostrils, and quivering dialogue delivers a performance that’s so over the top it’s as if the director has a gun trained on him throughout the entire production.
And I dare you to root for a bunch of guys who lead a chase around a ghetto neighborhood and never once think to run to a police station or a fire house. But mock it as I may, “Judgment Night” is like a cold beer on a hot night. It’s refreshing, void of nutritional value, but still manages to get the job done when all is said and done. Emilio Estevez in one of his non-duck films from the nineties stars as hapless family man Frank Wyatt who has just been talked in to going to a boxing match in the city with his two friends and younger brother John. Riding in the most conspicuous RV ever created, the men soon get lost along the way and find themselves stuck in the ghettos of the inner city where they have no chance of finding an exit any time soon.
While looking for a way back, the four men witness an apparent gang assassination and become the target of a vicious group of racially diverse gangsters all of whom are intent on making sure none of these men tell anyone what they’ve seen and heard. Which is odd considering throughout the run time of the movie there isn’t a single police officer to be seen on the street. Not a patrol car, or a beat cop, or even a meter maid. And the neighborhood is pretty much their playground, so there’s not a lot of reasoning for their immediacy in murdering the men to silence them. Nonetheless, by some miracle the four yuppies manage to escape their clutches and spend most of the night trying to find a way to get back home and free themselves from the clutches of the gang.
Led by Fallon, as played by Denis Leary, they’re never above reveling in their misdeeds, murdering anyone they want and tormenting the men before attempting to kill them one by one. In spite of the tough time I had rooting for the protagonists of the film, the gang members are accidentally more charismatic and likable than our heroes. Jeremy Piven is your typical disposable character who suffers a cruel death, and Stephen Dorff is the miscreant yet again who may or may not make it through the night. The only way the men are capable of making it out alive is through Frank’s calm head, and he’s barely a presence of rational thinking because Estevez doesn’t exactly approach the character with a boldness he should have.
Denis Leary seems to have a good time in the role of Fallon while Erik Shrody and Peter Greene have their fun as his henchmen who are never above doling out punishment to anyone who stands in their way. “Judgment Night” succeeds in being a competent if sometimes goofy action thriller that really does make the inner city feel like an endless row of desolation and desertion with no way out, and it’s a worthwhile nineties thriller to indulge in. If only for Gooding’s comically over the top performance. Almost twenty years later, “Judgment Night” works as an absurd but entertaining action thriller about a PC street gang chasing down a group of bland yuppies in a city oddly void of precincts or public places. I had a good time re-visiting this campy gem.