July 17, 1995 12:00 PM

Sylvester Stallone, Armand Assante, Diane Lane, Rob Schneider, Joan Chen

When Stallone says the word “law,” his slack-jawed enunciation turns it into a slurred “lhuw,” as in “Yuh buh-truyed da lhuw.” He says “lhuw” a lot in this wake-me-when-the-summer’s-over futuristic action thriller. His character, you see, is a combination cop, judge and executioner—a job that allows him to wear a disco-ready, Versace-designed, black-and-gold uniform and to smoke bad guys with a gun that responds to verbal commands such as “rapid fire,” “armor piercing” and “double whammy.”

If all this sounds a mite simpleminded, it is. Judge Dredd is based on a comic book, one that has been popular in Britain for the past 18 years but is only now being published stateside. The movie has a certain wham!-bam! charm for the first third, when its straightforward plotting and jokiness (“This room has been pacified,” Stallone grunts after gunning down a bunch of outlaws) seem refreshing—especially after the overloaded, hyperkinetic Batman Forever. But this charm wears thin as Dredd focuses more on its special effects and hardware (a flying motorcycle, robots who kill) than its characters.

As for the performances, they, too, are at the comic book level. Stallone is Stallone, and what you see—rippling muscles and straight-ahead stare—is what you get. Although Assante is venomous fun as the villain, a former colleague of Stallone’s turned megalomaniacal killer, neither Lane nor Chen, playing a Stallone ally and an evil scientist respectively, get to do much more than grunt enthusiastically during their climactic catfight. Schneider, as Stallone’s comic foil, mugs and rolls his eyes and generally looks as if he’s just grateful that someone rescued him from Saturday Night Live. (R)

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