Artisan // 1999 // 90 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Norman Short (Retired) // May 12th, 2000
Prepare For Impact.
On the heels of Armageddon and Deep Impact it was only a matter of time before low budget imitations would be released. One of these is Judgment Day, where a really big rock is headed to Earth and we have to jump through whatever hoops we can to stop it. In this case, though, the possible end to life on Earth is almost a sideline to the story, as this becomes more of an action vehicle. There are some very good performances in this straight to video flick, along with a great picture and sound on the disc. Only some woeful gaps in the script keeps this from being a very good deal.
After a meteor destroys a South American village it is discovered that a much bigger cousin is only a few days behind on its way to Earth. Unfortunately the government had rejected using a space borne system that might be able to destroy it in favor of a less capable one developed by a friend of the President. In order to try to maximize the world's chances, General Meech (played by "Barney Miller" regular Max Gail) puts out the call to bring in Dr. Corbett (Linden Ashby, Wyatt Earp, Mortal Kombat). He was the one who created Thor, the weapon system dismissed earlier and the only one who can get it working in time.
Mario Van Peebles (Heartbreak Ridge, New Jack City, Solo) plays Brother Payne, a charismatic religious leader who decides that society isn't doing enough to stop the crime, drugs, and guns in poor neighborhoods, and turns his group to vigilantism to make things right. An ex-Army Ranger, he uses military means and contacts to accomplish his goals, and still remains free and at large. Using one of these contacts, Payne finds out about the coming asteroid and decides this is the end times as described in the Bible. When he finds out about Dr. Corbett, he decides the scientist must be captured lest he interfere with God's will.
General Meech quickly realizes he has a security leak when Corbett is captured before he can be brought in. Unable to trust the people he has under his command, he turns to FBI Agent Tyrell (Suzy Amis, Twister, Titanic, The Usual Suspects), who had captured Payne once but lost in court. Tyrell is told she can use any means necessary to find Payne and rescue Dr. Corbett, so she goes to Reese, a convict who has great reason to find him as well. Reese is played by Ice T (Johnny Mnemonic, Tank Girl, New Jack City), who is also a producer of the film. Together Reese and Tyrell must overcome their leery reluctance to work together and track down the mad prophet and rescue the scientist. Oh yeah, and then save the world.
I found the performance by Mario Van Peebles especially powerful. He convinced me of having the charisma his character called for, which is something hard to fake. The performances by Amis and Ice T were also pretty strong. Payne has a henchman who is played by Tom "Tiny" Lister (The Players Club, Jackie Brown, The Fifth Element), and his performance was very good as well.
Artisan has really stepped up to the plate with some fine transfers on their discs too. This 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is first rate. Colors, especially blacks and fleshtones, are all accurate. Shadow detail is great, and there are no artifacts that I noticed. There was an occasional bit of grain and a few bits of dirt and nicks, mainly in the ending credits, but this is a fine transfer.
The sound is only Dolby Surround, but has plenty of punch, and a wide front soundstage. The sound is clear and detailed, with dialogue always clearly understood. There is even a fair bit of bass in the mix. The only weakness comes from the mono surrounds, which are only used occasionally for ambiance. No complaints here.
The extra package is a bit light but decent enough. Besides the mandatory trailer there are detailed bios and filmographies for the cast and crew, and several pages of text information on asteroids. This information was fairly interesting; giving some level of detail in which are able to cross Earth's orbit, and tells about all the major strikes Earth has had over the millennia.
Here comes the saddest part; the movie itself. To be fair, the story often rose above itself and there were frequently interesting moments. But the script itself had more than its share of weaknesses. Too many things are glossed over without attempt to make them believable. All credibility is thrown out the window several times during the film. The Thor device itself is poorly explained but it is taken for granted Corbett has designed an anti-matter weapon far more powerful than nuclear ones. Buy that and you are then forced to accept that the government lets this one device sit gathering dust instead of making any use out of it. The reasons why Corbett is kidnapped instead of killed is never explained at all, which doesn't sit well since everyone else in the way gets it. The motivation of some of the character's actions are never explained, and left me shaking my head. There is also a scene with fellow rapper Coolio that is just a throwaway scene, seemingly more a favor to a friend than a necessary part of the story.
If I'd had my wish I'd have done away with the whole "end of the world" part of the movie. It is tacked on almost as a sideline. A better film would have been the battle between the rogue FBI agent and convict vs. the enigmatic Brother Payne. The whole path that Payne took before the asteroid came around was to attack only bad guys and criminals, which would have made for an interesting dynamic as the agent and convict battle the vigilante. I feel as if the whole asteroid thing was tacked on to try to ride the coattails of the other big disaster pics.
My biggest complaint with the disc is the lack of subtitles. Again, all discs should come with closed captioning or subtitles for the hearing impaired.
I can't really recommend the movie. It's a cut above most of the straight to video variety of flicks we see so often, and the picture and sound quality are terrific, but the movie is weak. Rent it if you want to check it out. It's been on cable quite a bit already so if you see it there and decide you like it the disc would warrant purchase.
Artisan is commended for the quality of video transfers they are doing, and for this disc itself. The actors in the movie are released. The film itself is found guilty of poor writing and exposition, along with blatant coattail riding.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Cast and Crew Info
* Asteroid Information