The Judge

Judge Quad_main
Directed by David Dobkin

Starring Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Billy Bob Thornton, Vincent D’Onofrio and Leighton Meester
In UK Cinemas October 17th, 2014

by James Temperton

Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) is a slick big city lawyer with an endless supply of sharp suits and witty one liners. He is, essentially, Robert Downey Jr.. He drives a big ol’ Ford, he drinks Bud Light and women love him. At one point he even gains superpowers, stopping a bar brawl using nothing more than lawyer speak and a raised eyebrow.

Hank spends much of the film volleying vitriol at Judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall), his cold, unloving father. The storyline jumps from tediously well-worn to almost nonsensical. At one point the audience is left giggling confusedly while Hank hoses down a trembling, feces-smeared Joseph in one of the film’s more dubious scenes.

The Judge tries to be serious then decides it would much rather get a cheap laugh before finally settling on oodles of treacle-laced sentiment. When Hank’s mother dies watering her geraniums two worlds collide. The ego-in-a-suit-son must return to small-town Indiana, home of his cantankerous father. Things are plodding along predictably enough until dad is accused of running over and killing a hated local hick. Can father and son work together to ensure that justice prevails?

Unsurprisingly the star-studded cast sags under the film’s dopey plot as the dialogue scampers from one cliche to the next. There’s the sleepy town, the teenage flame, the sexy daughter, the other cutesy daughter, the dysfunctional family and the permanent liberal helpings of halcyon sunshine pouring through every window. And there are a lot of windows.

This isn’t even a courtroom drama, it is a family drama with gavels and lingering shots of trees. Its identity crisis leaves your head spinning. Discussions about terminal illness, manslaughter and families being torn apart are interspersed with rib-tickling jokes. Director David Dobkin (Shanghai Knights, The Wedding Crashers) seems one ill-judged quip away from introducing Owen Wilson for comic relief.

The procession of men talking about important things is backed up by a stellar cast of cut-out-and-keep women. Hank’s wife, only seen for one scene at the start of the film, is nothing more than a raging argument in a revealing purple dress. The other women range from constantly lusting after Hank, smiling amiably, screaming and ranting or being dead.

There are things to enjoy. Old-time prosecutor Billy Bob Thornton snarls amiably and drinks water from a bizarre periscopic metal cup that gets more screentime than Hank’s wife. But plus-points are few and far between.

As the credits roll a folksy cover of Coldplay’s The Scientist twangs out, leaving everyone with the impression that they’ve been here before and would rather not come back.

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