"Judgment Night" takes a subplot from Laurence Kasdan's "Grand Canyon" the one where Kevin Kline's car breaks down on the wrong side of town and fills it out to full-length thriller proportions.
Emilio Estevez, his brother (Stephen Dorff) and two best friends (Cuba Gooding Jr., Jeremy Piven) are spending a "boy's night out," heading for a boxing match. Piven even manages to finagle a huge van complete with minibar, entertainment center and satellite dish for the night.
But when they hit heavy traffic on the freeway, Piven takes a very bad exit and the foursome lands in a bleak part of town, where drugs and gang violence are just part of the daily routine.
When their vehicle hits a man in the road, they reluctantly get out to see if he's OK and when they get him inside the van, they discover he's actually suffering from a gunshot wound, and he has a fistful of stolen drug money.
As it happens, the money belongs to gangster Denis Leary, and he's not happy with the former employee who ran off with it. So, Leary blows the kid away, and then sends his thugs after the witnesses.
The rest of "Judgment Night" is basically a chase, with Leary and friends in hot pursuit of Estevez and friends. But this area is so bad that the police don't respond very quickly, and even city buses sometimes don't bother to stop. What's more, no one wants to open a door to a stranger, and all the pay phones are broken.
As with last year's Walter Hill thriller, "Trespass," "Judgment Night," written by Lewis Colick ("Unlawful Entry") and directed by Stephen Hopkins ("Predator 2," "A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child"), plays on our collective urban paranoia, the nightmare of being stuck in a strange area, stalked by killers .
There is also a bit of "The Fugitive" here, or "Four Fugitives" in this case innocent, on the run and terrified that one little mistake will be their undoing.
"Judgment Night" boasts some fine performances and one knockout, by standup comic Leary as the chief villain. As with his turn in "Demolition Man," Leary shows he has many facets to his acting ability, with a fresh-scrubbed face that makes him look like just another yuppie on the street but the capacity to convey menace with just a look or a shrug.
Estevez is good as the reluctant hero of the piece, but Gooding and Piven are made to be such over-the-top jerks at times that their characters become less appealing. And it's unfortunate that so much of the action relies on their reacting stupidly.
Still, this is a pretty tense stuff most of the way.
"Judgment Night" is rated R for violence, profanity and vulgarity.
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