(US - 2014)
Directed by David Dobkin. Written by Nick Schenk and Bill Dubuque. Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Billy Bob Thornton, Vera Farmiga, Vincent D'Onofrio, Jeremy Strong, Dax Shepard, Leighton Meester, Ken Howard, Balthazar Getty, David Krumholtz, Emma Tremblay, Grace Zabriskie, Denis O'Hare, Sarah Lancaster. (R, 142 mins)
THE JUDGE is a film that tries to be too many things and succeeds about half of the time. On one hand, it perceptively deals with the idea of family, the ties that bind, the consequences of one's actions, and ultimately, the love that triumphs over the adversity of grudges that have lasted the better part of a lifetime. It's also the kind of glossy courtroom drama that used to be commonplace in the late '80s and into the '90s. Its tonal shifts are whiplash-inducing, including one jawdropper of a subplot that seems more fitting for the raunchy comedies that director David Dobkin has made in the past, like WEDDING CRASHERS (2005) and THE CHANGE-UP (2011). Working from a script by Nick Schenk (GRAN TORINO) and Bill Dubuque, Dobkin throws a little of everything into THE JUDGE, and while he gets outstanding and fully committed performances by his stars, the film too often compromises itself, sacrificing honesty and raw emotion for grandstanding, cliched speeches that ensure every cast member gets some time in the spotlight, THE JUDGE is the kind of film where it's not enough for things to reach the boiling point for an embittered father and son as they have a knock-down, drag-out screaming match during a family get-together--no, the family get-together has to be in the basement because there's a massive tornado blowing through town, and of course, the argument extends beyond the basement as they take it out into the yard while battling violent winds before heading back into the house again.
JAYNE MANSFIELD'S CAR and the terrible A NIGHT IN OLD MEXICO provided him. There's still an unfortunate desire by mainstream Hollywood to turn geriatric actors into dirty old men, as set forth by the Burgess Meredith Amendment. A feared, respected authoritarian taskmaster like The Judge doesn't seem the type to mockingly chide Hank because his wife "played Hide the Pickle with some other guy." Inconsistencies and assorted silliness aside, THE JUDGE is worth seeing for the performances of Downey and Duvall, but Dobkin has been given a strange amount of leeway in what made it to the final cut. This thing could've used another run through the editing room and quite a bit less overbaked courtroom melodrama. Or it could've settled on being a either a glossy, commercial courtroom thriller or a gritty, in-your-face look at frayed family dysfunction, because in committing fully to neither, it comes up harmlessly entertaining but curiously lacking.