I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Judgment Night

tn_judgmentnightI’m interested in this idea of The Place White People Can’t Go. According to pop culture and middle class conventional wisdom there are large swaths of every major city that are like the wild west or a post-apocalyptic dystopia. The second a woman steps off the wrong subway or a man’s car breaks down on the wrong block, homeless men in ragged coats turn their heads from the flaming oil barrels where they warm their hands, and seedy criminals step out of the shadows of the garbage-strewn, rat-infested alleys to attempt a gang rape or mugging before this shaky-handed outsider gets a chance to unfold his or her map.

Admittedly many of these swarmers are white too, so maybe it’s really The Place Suburbanites Can’t Go. But it seems like a specifically white paranoia, perpetrated on white movie characters. It’s perpetuated in movies I like, such as the DEATH WISH series, as well as many an ’80s comedy. More recently it made an appearance in TRAINING DAY when walking through the barrio nearly got Ethan Hawke’s “shit pushed in.”

This is not entirely made up. Of course there are high crime areas (in Seattle it’s called “my bus stop”) and desperate, troubled people everywhere, and we’ve all heard stories, some of which are true. But I really think the whole thing is blown out of proportion in a way that appeals to our worst instincts and makes problems worse. In most cases I believe a white man can go anywhere and get a funny look at worst. If you mind your own business most people will leave you alone. Going into “a bad neighborhood” is not really like being a piece of meat in a tiger pit. You’ll probly be okay.

It’s bad because this paranoia serves to keep people apart, prevent understanding between cultures and classes, encourage suspicion and profiling of people who are different, and feed into the fantasies of these delusional crazies who have created The Places Black People Can’t Go. In their minds, the black teenagers they see in their neighborhoods must be invading criminals. It would almost be funny how scared the white people were of too many good looking middle class kids at the pool if we didn’t know somebody could’ve gotten killed over it.

mp_judgmentnightWell, JUDGMENT NIGHT isn’t exactly about that. I always thought it was. It’s mainly known for its soundtrack’s gimmick of teaming rappers with rock bands. But it turns out other than “Fallin'” by Teenage Fanclub and De La Soul and “Another Body Murdered” by Faith No More and Boo-Yaa Tribe being used on the credits, all the songs earn the subtitle “[rap music – indistinct]”, and it also turns out these teamups don’t represent any type of healing of a racial divide. In fact the clash in the movie is completely class-based. Four friends take a fancy RV for a Guy’s Night Out to a boxing match, take a traffic shortcut through the slums and end up under siege for witnessing a gang execution. The villains are organized crime types, not street gangs, but their leader Fallon (Denis Leary) does unleash his blue collar resentment on these rich boys as they hide in condemned buildings and rail yards and he stalks around yelling threatening cat and mouse banter at them.

(By the way, Fallon’s henchmen include ’90s indie crime film mainstay Peter Greene [LAWS OF GRAVITY, PULP FICTION, THE USUAL SUSPECTS, UNDER SIEGE 2: DARK TERRITORY] and Erik Schrody, aka Everlast in his acting followup to WHO’S THE MAN?

In some ways the movie seems aware of the class issues it’s bringing up. It knows that asshole behavior gets them into this mess. Frank (Emilio Estevez, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE) seems to be the audience identifier, the reasonable guy trying to calm his stupid friends down. Best friend Mike (Cuba Gooding Jr. from SHADOWBOXER) isn’t too bad, but he’s a bit of a show off, and beats up a guy over a traffic dispute before the shit goes down. Frank’s little brother John (a baby-faced pre-BLADE Stephen Dorff) is a hothead who starts the fight. But Ray (Jeremy Piven, BODY CHEMISTRY II: VOICE OF A STRANGER) is the dick who smarmily pushes them all into situations they obviously don’t want to be in. He’s sort of the O-Dog or Bishop of this crew, but he explodes into douchiness instead of violence. He’s a fake business man asshole who lied his way into borrowing the RV from a dealership, who thinks he can wheel and deal his way out of any problem, and also that that makes him awesome. Despite his ego he’s the biggest coward of the bunch (afraid to climb across a ladder, among other things) and the one who brought a gun and pulls it on the wrong people.

In one section of the movie they sneak into a housing project and try to get someone to let them use a phone to call the police. But they do a terrible job of communicating their situation and keep running toward people, seeming like potential home invaders. They keep asking to be let into apartments to use the phone and don’t think to just ask them to call the police themselves. (Ultimately the bad guys cut the phone lines and the police won’t come anyway.) So I blame these people less than the neighbors in HALLOWEEN who turn the lights off when Laurie knocks on the door.

One couple does shelter them briefly, lesbian parents it seems like, which is very progressive for 1995. They’re sympathetic characters, caught between being Good Samaritans and protective parents. The latter wins out thanks to dumb ass Ray and his gun.

Other than them, the incidental characters are not treated with much dignity. There’s the homeless guys they run into while hiding, who greedily roll them for their wallets and jewelry in exchange for not ratting them out. One guy is crazy and almost gives them away by yelling about “I’m a college graduate!” and how he almost had a basketball career and stuff. Mike is really slow in figuring out that the guy wants his letterman type jacket. In many movies we would later learn that the homeless guy is telling the truth, he’s a tragic story of potential gone unrealized, who will use his smarts to save them. Not tonight. Not Judgment Night. He just wears Mike’s jacket and immediately gets mistaken for him and shot to death. The boys keep running and never take a second to feel bad about it.

Same goes for the security guards they get the attention of by breaking into what I guess is supposed to be a swap meet but looks like a big department store. They don’t respect them as humans enough to tell them what’s going on, they just laugh and antagonize them into calling the police. Then the guards, who probly would’ve liked to go to the boxing match themselves if they could afford it and get the night off, get killed by the gangsters. No one cares.

Frank has been established as a sensitive husband who “hasn’t left the house” for 3 months since his wife gave birth. His unlikable wife (Christine Harnos, DAZED AND CONFUSED, HELLRAISER: BLOODLINE) tries to guilt him about this one rare outing with the fellas, and they in turn give him shit about being a marriage pussy. At the beginning the boys are clearly wrong, but at the end the movie decides that he has to Man Up and start yelling and killing people. It’s dumb. But it does mean there’s a chase and breaking-things fight in a department store, similar to director Stephen Hopkins’ first movie DANGEROUS GAME. (This was his fourth film, after A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 5: THE DREAM CHILD and PREDATOR 2.)

In the end (SPOILER) most of the boys get to go home, one on a stretcher, but all of them laughing. Ray gets punished, but at least he doesn’t have to pay for the RV he trashed. The others get to go home and have their bank cards cancelled and replaced while the families of the security guards find out if there’s enough life insurance money to keep from getting evicted.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 17th, 2015 at 8:50 am and is filed under Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

22 Responses to “Judgment Night”

  1. Crushinator Jones

    June 17th, 2015 at 9:38 am

    Killer last line, Vern. This is a movie that is scared as shit of the world outside of clueless privilege even while it condemns and identifies with having that privilege.

  2. Man Vern keeps em coming! I love the “stuck on the bad side of town” genre, which got a welcome comeback last year in The Purge 2. (Even comedies like Mystery Date, License to Drive, After Hours, The Night Before, I love all of them) There’s just something about the building escalation, the built-in not-quite real time pace, and the nuggets of exposition/character building during the breathers in the action that make this genre so fun (and probably why we like Die Hard genre movies as well) Btw: I remember telling my lady how everyone kinda over-sold Fury Road as being 80% chase scene which isn’t really true, and she pointed out that makes almost all these movies including Judgment Night 80% chase scene.

    Funny we’re all talking about the soundtracks in the Batman Forever thread because THIS was the soundtrack to have in high school (this and The Crow, that is). “Fallin'” never gets old, but the Pearl Jam/Cypress Hill song is probably the hidden gem, it’s still on my running playlist.

  3. I’ve always liked this movie as a thriller-action hybrid with a good cast and questionable ethics, but it’s all about the soundtrack. There’s barely a bum track on it—lookin’ at you, Sir Mix-a-Lot—and multiple classics. The Helmet/House of Pain joint gets me pumped up every time Everlast’s verse rises up from the electric sludge like the Creature From The Whiteboy Lagoon, the Cypress Hill/Sonic Youth track is one history’s greatest weed songs with a sexy as hell chorus, and the Ice-T/Slayer collabo is heavier than a motherfucker thanks to some of the sickest metal drumming ever heard. The album’s mere existence raises the movie half a star.

  4. Never heard of that movie or its soundtrack before, but I’m listening to it right now. (The first Soundtrack Caspering?) Good stuff.

  5. Man I used to love this movie back in the day. Been years since I last seen it but it was the first time I realized that Dennis Leary was really fucking legit.

  6. What the fuck, Vern? How could you fail to include a “Don’t Be Ellis” comment in your description of Jeremy Piven’s character here?

  7. The whole idea of The Place White People Can’t Go makes me think of a time when I was on vacation in New Orleans. A friend and I wandered around and around one day and ended up stopping in a Wendy’s for dinner. At some point I looked around and realized we were the only white people in the place. I don’t think it was a bad neighborhood, but it was clearly a black neighborhood. I wasn’t scared, but it was a jarring moment of “Huh. So, that’s what that feels like.” And no one there seemed to give the tiniest rat’s ass that a couple of white girls were in their midst.

    Conversely, many many years ago, like in the 70s, or maybe even the 60s, my dad and a couple of his friends went on a fishing trip somewhere like Wyoming. Their car broke down on a winding mountain road. There was no shoulder to push the car off to and they had just rounded a bend so they were worried about a car coming around the bend and crashing into them. One of them walked around the bend to warn drivers while the other two were trying to repair it. The one that was standing in the road to wave off cars was a very large black man. When a car came along and saw him they screeched to a halt, zipped around into a U-turn and went back the way they came. He came and told them they need to switch out with him to flag down the cars. It was a funny story in our family, but also a sad example that there are probably more Places Black People Can’t Go.

  8. I worked as a mailman for a while in one of Germany’s bigger cities and it actually had a “Place white people can’t go”. Technically it was a “place women can’t go”, because the violent crime rate was so high, that none of my female co-workers ever had to go that route. Especially not after a mailMAN got gangraped on the job there.

    The most scary and fascinating thing about this place is that it’s right behind the central train station. Bascially if you get out of the train and go to the right, you will end up in the business area, with nice shopping malls, fast food restaurants, etc. If you go to the left, you are still safe as long as you don’t go further as the multiplex, that shares its parking lot with the train station. Once you cross the street, you enter the red light district (Which is still kinda safe-ish, because the pimps don’t want the police to shut down their business. It’s still a scary place to go through.) and after that, you should better get a taxi. I wonder how many tourists got into serious trouble there.

  9. The last section of this movie is unfortunate. Everything leading up to it is eerily moody and exciting and sociologically politically uncomfortable in an interesting way, and then it turns into a generic action thriller with a tidy, comfortable-ish conclusion.

    It’s not difficult to conceive of a better ending — basically, cut from the moment Cuba Gooding goes gun-to-gun with the henchmen and turn the final sequence into a nihilistic THE WILD BUNCH type of thing, maybe add some cross-cut voiceover showing us a dying Emilio’s wife & kid and the police arriving way too late to the scene of the crimes. Maybe Dorff gets gunned down because a security guard (Surprise! He’s alive.) mistakes him for a hostile actor. Could’ve been special. Instead they went with the semi-happy ending where the privileged suburbanites mostly prevail and the cops save them.

    But seriously what’s the point of this websight if you don’t point out the obvious Ellises in post-DIE HARD genre cinema? Piven is drunk (Ellis is coked out), he suicidally negotiates with the criminals (Ellis suicidally negotiates with the criminals), he stupidly thinks he has the rhetorical upper hand while his friends watch him chat with the bad guy (Ellis stupidly thinks he has the rhetorical upper hand while his friend listens to him chat with the bad guy), he hides his insecurities with awkward laughter & banter (Ellis hides his etc.),
    IT WAS RIGHT THERE VERN. DON’T BE ELLIS.

  10. I’ve never seen Judgment Night, so I am talking out of my ass here, but reading Vern’s report and the comments about it, I find myself wondering if the movie’s tidy, comfortable-ish conclusion where the privileged suburbanites prevail is entirely necessary of an ending for any movie that is aimed squarely at a privileged suburbanite audience / plays directly on their white paranoia of Places Where Suburbanites Can’t Go. First you hook them by articulating their worst fears (If I take a wrong turn and make eye contact with the wrong person, I will get gang raped/murdered/combination of the two, in any particular order), then you reassure them that everything will be okay. Basically it HAS to come down on the side of fantasy, ultimately, because that’s the only thing the post-blockbuster marketplace will generate for a mass audience. Maybe in the 70’s you could get away with “Deliverance,” but that kind of storytelling has migrated to TV now (and it sure as hell wasn’t in vogue in the mid-90’s).

  11. Good soundtrack in theory, but didn’t really give us any crossover classics that are still listened to this day. Totally inspired by Anthrax’s “Bring The Noizse” (which got a second life as the first track in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater video game) and would eventually lead to mainstream white boys leaving metal behind by the mid-decade for gangsta rap. Decent movie that wasn’t totally b-grade.

    But Denis Leary was killing it in the early 90s. This and Demolition Man and “No Cure for Cancer” made him the go-to comedy record at parties that Richard Pryor was in the 70s and Eddie Murphy was with a Raw in the 80s.

    Worth a watch just so we could see what “gritty” looked like to filmgoers in the 90s.

  12. My The Place White People Can’t Go story isn’t too exciting, but in 2013 I went to a hipster shindig in Savannah, which my mom informed me took place in a “bad neighborhood” and she didn’t really want me to go, but I went anyway and of course nothing happened.

    So I think that fear is a bit more prevalent among older generations.

  13. CJ, are you talking about Altona in Hamburg? I was there once with a couple of mates. It was daytime, but still a bit…I wouldn’t say scary, but…interesting.

    I think we have to adress the Irish angle in JUDGEMENT NIGHT. Mostly because I know something about it. With Hopkins having spent a lot of time in England, and with Ireland fetishists like Leary and Everlast onboard, we have to assume that the Irish Gangsters Are Cooler Than Anyone Else-thing was talked about on set. Which is funny because in Dublin, statistically one of the most dangerous capitols in the world, you don’t get scared of the guys who look like Leary and Everlast – they’re almost always there to see Dropkick Murphy’s – it’s the guys in white shirts and knitted sweaters you look out for. When you visit that town you often have to go to some area that looks a bit rough, and last time I was there the newspapers wrote about turists getting a beating. On an average day me, my wife and our friends look like a gang of rock’n rollers just out for a good time and we have never been even looked at twice. So my guess is that it’s – as always – a rich vs poor-thing we’re talking about. If you look like a tourist with a lot of money on you, you might feel a bit nervous going into som areas. But otherwise I think you’re safe.

  14. The Original Paul

    June 18th, 2015 at 3:48 am

    This may surprise people, but I really liked this movie. Mostly because of Denis Leary and Jeremy Piven. Mouth nails it with the “Ellis” comparison, by the way.

    A lot of what Vern points out in his review didn’t occur to me when watching the film. Especially the treatment of the “incidental characters”. I always regarded it as a fairly straight “clueless buddies in over their head”-type movie. Looking back though, I think it might have been better, or at least more self-aware, if [SPOILER] Ray didn’t die [END SPOILER]. At least that way there wouldn’t have been a convenient sense of “justice” for the asshole that caused this whole mess in the first place. Maybe it would’ve forced the viewer to ask some uncomfortable questions about what really would’ve been “just” in this situation.

    I always liked that Leary’s character was insulted when Ray tried to bribe him. It feels as though this drives home the “class difference” there.

  15. Pegsman, no, I was talking about Dortmund. Never been to Hamburg, but I knew a priest who spent several years of his life there and who had some pretty scary stories to tell too. (Can’t remember if it was about Altona.)

  16. Thanks for this review Vern, especially for that first couple of contextual paragraphs. I’ve always loved this genre (especially in Wolfen, where the Bronx looks worse than a Detroit hangover), but find the Places No One Should Go country editions almost scarier (Deliverance, Texas Chainsaw, etc.). There’s also the Bars No White Person Should Go Into edition that is almost always used in a comedic way or to show what a CRAZY night out someone had (Animal House, Adventures in Babysitting, Weird Science, etc.).
    Unfortunately, I think these settings you describe really do seep into the way people think about other cultures in the big city. I’m a white guy from the south side of Chicago and I’ve spent a lot of time in the hood, I’ve gone to every kind of bar from west side blues bars to south side after hours clubs, and have never once had a problem. I’ve had more dangerous run ins in fricking Wrigleyville. If I’m going to visit a friend in Englewood or Roseland I have always heard “Why are you going there? You’ll get killed!” You know who gets killed in poor neighborhoods? Poor people. Either gangbangers or innocent bystanders. A white guy has a chance of getting either robbed or beat up, that’s it. Of course there may be some exceptions (robbery gone bad), but in all my years I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a white guy getting killed in a black neighborhood, at least that I can recall.
    It is funny though that at a lot of black lounges I will get asked “What are YOU doing here?”, usually with laugh.
    So outlaws, have a comedic and CRAZY night out in your city by going outside of your comfort zone and visiting a local lounge of color.

  17. It reminds me of that Louis CK bit
    “People are too afraid of uptown. A lot of people will tell you, like, ‘Don’t go to Harlem. You can never go there ’cause as soon as you get there, they kill you.’ That’s what people think. As soon as you arrive in Harlem, someone just stabs you in the face right away… That’s people’s image of Harlem: just everyone standing around waiting for lost white people to kill all day.”

  18. It was 1993 if you can believe that. I remember being so excited for this movie. It seemed like an awesome sort of DIE HARD in the city and Denis Leary was the bad guy! Oh man, I was so disappointed how boring and one dimensional it was. But I had another friend who didn’t believe me and still wanted to see it, and I ended up seeing it again with him and he couldn’t believe how one dimensional the characters were.

    So this and PCU are what earned Jeremy Piven the Ari Gold typecast, right?

    I had the soundtrack but can’t remember. Was “Fallin” the song that opens the movie?

  19. I liked Denis Leary in this, but this has got to have the worst bunch of “action” heroes ever assembled. Emilio Estevez has never been the bad ass he seems to think he is, and for some reason casting directors shared this belief, but Cuba Gooding, Jr., Stephen Dorff and Jeremy Piven are not much better.

  20. flyingguillotine

    June 19th, 2015 at 12:44 pm

    I spun the shit out of this soundtrack back in the day.

  21. Ace Mac Ashbrook

    June 19th, 2015 at 1:41 pm

    I really liked Denis Leary in this. I always wanted his leather jacket that he wore.

  22. I read another article on this movie on The Dork Shelf that talked about some stuff how Ray was the initial villain before Fallon came in. I’d rather not go into all the the details, but I recommend you read it. There were points made that differ from yours, but they aren’t opposing points, just other things that were pointed out.

    As for the movie itself, I remember hearing about this by seeing it listed on a TV Guide, and I remember seeing the end of the film when I saw it on USA Network back in 2002 before watching “BASEketball” on TV (I don’t know if that movie would hold up to me now, but I liked that movie as a kid). I didn’t watch the movie until 2009 when I found it On Demand. Now I can say that I like the movie and found it enjoyable, but I found some problems with the film. One of the things that I never understood was that at the end, Frank’s wife showed up to the crime scene after the big climax. First of all, did she call the cops asking where the guys were? Or did the cops tell her that they found her husband somewhere and she just raced all the way from the suburban neighborhood that they live in all the way to the ghetto. That is unless the cops drove her and the baby to the store. Plus, I didn’t buy Frank as this tough guy that the script alluded him to be. I mean I can see that Cuba Gooding Jr’s acting tried to sell him as such, but Emilio Estevez didn’t really convince me as this “tough guy gone soft.” Hell, the ending just had me thinking that Frank went over the edge over the whole ordeal.

    By the way, I didn’t take those two women as a lesbian couple, but rather two sisters living together, and one of them being a single mother to her daughter. It’s not an uncommon thing for siblings to live together. One thing that cracked me up about this film is that when Fallon and his men were talking with those street kids, they bust out their guns, but the street kids just break out their melee weapons such as hockey sticks or baseball bats. I’m like, “Seriously?”

    As for the soundtrack, I still bump it now and it’s still good to listen to. My favorite songs are “Another Body Murdered,” “Judgment Night” and “The Real Thing,” but I would listen to all tracks and never get tired of it.

    One more thing, I own this movie on DVD, and when I bought it, which was in late 2011, I went through a bit of a kick of films involving these “Fish out of water” stories where a group of people get themselves into a heap of trouble while in a bad part of town. One other example is “Trespass,” which came out nearly a year before this. I remember how at that same time, I bought a DVD of a TV movie called, “Survive The Night,” which I enjoyed as well. It was pretty much like THIS movie, but it involved women being the protagonists, and a street gang as the villains. Then I later watched, “Enemy Territory,” which I recommend you check out as well.

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