Robert Downey Jr. has been everywhere promoting “The Judge”; which isn’t surprising because there’s little else about the film that will get the audiences in. I doubt this review will.
Downey plays a brilliant Chicago attorney untroubled by the fact that everybody he represents is guilty. That is until he is called on to defend his estranged father, a long-serving town judge (Robert Duvall, introduced with all the lens flare a veteran of “The Godfather” and “Apocalypse Now” deserves). All Downey wants is to drop in for his beloved mother’s funeral then leave, but bit-by-bit he is pulled back into his old hometown life.
And boy is that life as sweet as apple pie: a white American idyll straight out of Frank Capra. There are fishing trips, bicycle rides and high school yearbooks. Much time is spent on porches. Long before his autistic brother digs out the Super 8 movies to remind RDJ just how much his father loves him, you’ll have caught the tone.
For all that it wants you to think there is some discomfort here, “The Judge” is as tooth-rottingly sweet an affirmation of homespun values as you’re likely to see this year. Take the star names off the credits and it could be showing at 2pm on True Entertainment.
None of which is to say “The Judge” is bad. Downey can pitch a slick line (“Everyone wants Atticus Finch until there’s a dead hooker in the hot tub”) and is very sweet in the scenes with his on-screen daughter Emma Tremblay. It makes you wish people would have more confidence in him playing his age, rather than casting him as various Tony Stark men-children. Duvall creates a convincingly proud old man, aware that the vast majority of his life is behind him and the only thing left for him to build is his legacy.
The greater mystery is how such talent and so much money (RDJ doesn’t come cheap) can be deployed to so little effect. It’s rare to find such a big movie that sticks so very hard to the middle of the road, without even the occasional swerve into innovation or attempt at something grander.
“The Judge” is passable. You might even smile a few times, but two weeks later you’ll have trouble differentiating it from all the similar films you’ve seen. Save for Robert Downey Jr being kinda cute.
3 stars out of 5
“The Judge” is in UK cinemas from October 17
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