Fox // 1983 // 109 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Mitchell Hattaway (Retired) // March 25th, 2005
They meet. They judge. They execute.
Steve Hardin (Michael Douglas, Disclosure) is a judge who is tired of seeing violent criminals set free because of legal technicalities. Hardin swallows all the injustice he can stomach until the day Harold Lewin (James B. Sikking, Outland), a doctor whose son has been abducted and killed by members of a kiddie-porn ring, accuses Hardin of being an accessory to the murders of innocent children. Hardin then accepts an invitation from colleague Benjamin Caulfield (Hal Holbrook, Creepshow) to join the Star Chamber, a secret organization of judges who exact their own brand of vigilante justice on those individuals who take advantage of loopholes in the legal system. Hardin immediately makes a case for the execution of Arthur Cooms (Joe Regalbuto, Murphy Brown) and Lawrence Monk (Don Calfa, Foul Play), the men he believes are responsible for the murder of Dr. Lewin's young son. His plan hits a snag when Detective Harry Lowes (Yaphet Kotto, Alien) arrests three other men for the crime, and Hardin quickly begins to have doubts about the motives and methods of the Star Chamber.
The Star Chamber is a mildly entertaining thriller from director Peter Hyams (Narrow Margin, The Presidio). You don't want to think about the particulars of the plot too much, the pacing can be a little pokey in the first half, and the (unnecessary) action climax is more than a bit preposterous (Douglas goes from mild-mannered judge to superhuman detective in the blink of an eye), but otherwise it's not too bad. It often pushes credibility to the breaking point, and works better at button-pushing than it does at logic, but at least it's never boring. It's also pretty well acted, with a nice performance by Douglas and some very good work from Holbrook. Regalbuto and Calfa are both a bit over the top, although I get the feeling that's exactly what Hyams wanted. Speaking of the cast, if you look closely you might spot David "Bud Bundy" Faustino as one of Hardin's ColecoVision-playing sons. (I only had an Atari 2600 when I was growing up, so Faustino's two brief scenes brought back some painful memories for me.)
The audio/video quality of this release is a bit of a disappointment. The picture is quite soft; the photography in Hyams's films is often intentionally soft (and The Star Chamber is one of the rare instances in which Hyams does not serve as his own cinematographer), but the transfer here takes it a little too far. I wish Fox had simply slapped the theatrical release's stereo track on this disc, as the remixed 5.1 track is incredibly thin, with almost no surround action and absolutely no low-end activity (two street cops chasing a suspect through a house sounds more like a couple of cats running across a sheet of plywood, and the climactic explosion sounds like it was recorded from about five miles away).
I don't think The Star Chamber is something you'll want to own, nor do I think you should put it at the top of your Netflix rental list, but you might want to consider it on one of those days when the pickings are slim.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
Running Time: 109 Minutes
Release Year: 1983
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Teaser Trailer
* Theatrical Trailer