I didn’t think I was going to have time to review two movies this weekend, but instead of writing one 800-word review about how The Judge was bad, I decided to write two 400-word reviews telling you why The Judge AND Dracula Untold are bad. Neither movie is terribly complicated, therefore, neither review will take terribly long.
Robert Downey, Jr. and his wife, producer Susan Downey, started a production shingle together, and this is their first creative output as producing partners. It is not entirely a good movie, but I also don’t outright loathe it (like I do Dracula Untold). I could see myself watching this movie with my parents during the holidays and it being a solid family option. The main issue with The Judge is that it’s too long and schmaltzy, and the length makes the schmaltz worse because you have that much longer to be aware of it. The story is nothing new, both in the estranged father/son department and in the legal/procedural one, and there is some really hackneyed dialogue. Poor Vera Farmiga gets the worst of it but she’s game and tries her best to make that shit work.
When The Judge is just focused on good actors acting, it’s rather enjoyable. RDJ and Robert Duvall have some really rewarding scenes together, and this is the most engaged Duvall has been on screen in a while. Vincent D’Onofrio is also good, and Billy Bob Thornton does his best snake oil salesman routine. The Judge wants to be a pulpy, small-town drama—I was reminded at times of The Long Hot Summer, oddly enough—but the clichés and bad dialogue bring it down. Its bloated runtime doesn’t help, either.
The Judge needed a firmer hand to rein it in and trim it down. It can be fathers and sons and courtroom drama rolled into one, but both of those things can’t be #1. One has to be the A plot and one the B. Just by deciding which storyline was more important they could have knocked 20 minutes off the runtime because one plot wouldn’t have needed so much setup. The Downeys put their stamp all over this project, so I’m laying this failure at their door.
UGH. I mean, I knew it would be bad, but it was SO BAD. Dracula Untold is a reimagined origin for Vlad Dracula, attempting to integrate the vampire count of folklore with the actual man behind the myth, medieval Transylvanian ruler Vlad Tepes, aka “Vlad the Impaler”. There’s a lot of talk about Vlad being “Lord Impaler”, but we only see Vlad impale one guy. This is a PG-13 movie, which means it’s depressingly boring and vague about action. You made a vampire movie with no gore: Congratulations, you’re Twilight.
The direction—courtesy first-timer Gary Shore—is terrible. Action is impossible to follow thanks to an overreliance on shaky cam and also numerous dumb visual tricks like “watching” action in the reflection of a sword. A lot of this seems to be in service of sanitizing what may have originally been an R-rated gorefest, but the end result is that Dracula Untold is boring and ugly to look at. But the writing—courtesy first time duo Matt Sazama and Burke Sharpless—is even worse. Everyone speaks in ridiculous prosy clichés and nothing anyone does makes any sense. The only real character in the movie is Dracula (Luke Evans), and that’s a stretch. It’s just that the movie actually attempts to give him motivation, so he wins by default. Everyone else is just a cartoon.
Just when the movie is ending and you start to feel relief, the screen comes back up to reveal Dracula in the present day, establishing that there could be a sequel. Universal wants to make a cross-over multi-verse out of their classic monster titles, with Dracula serving as the jumping off point. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
This is a really terrible movie. No one should see it. Ever.