Director Stephen Hopkins made his bones with tension-filled action flicks like Predator 2, Blown Away, and The Ghost in the Darkness, while also marking the opening salvo of 24 with his direction. But in 1993’s Judgment Night, he directs a quartet of young actors as suburban young adults trapped in a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse with a Chicago drug dealer played by Denis Leary. It’s classic 1990s, and thanks to Warner Archive, you can rewatch this gem, entertained by these actors on their way up.
Emilio Estevez is the face of the quartet, as a young father with a newborn, Frank Wyatt. He’s joined by his best friends, Mike Peterson (Cuba Gooding Jr.) and Ray Cochran (Jeremy Piven), while his ne’er-do-well brother, John (Stephen Dorff), has been pulled into the trip when another friend dropped out. They hop aboard a tricked-out RV that Cochran ‘borrowed’ by falsely claiming to check it out for his company’s use, and head downtown on the expressway to Chicago from their idyllic suburban homes.
Then Cochran makes a wrong turn off the expressway and hits a man (Michael DeLorenzo, New York Undercover) crossing the street, the quartet realizes he’s been shot while in the possession of a stack of cash, and they witness Leary’s Fallon kill the man they had just ‘rescued.’ On the run, the RV stuck between two tenements, the four friends must rally their resources to escape the drug dealer and his crew (including Peter Greene and Everlast) who have the neighborhood under his control.
The chase takes the friends into a homeless community, into tenement houses, to the roofs and the sewers. It’s a full-fledged exploration of poverty and desperation in the city, crashing these ‘everyday Joes’ into something they have never seen. It’s not glamorized, and they take on losses as they go. In some ways, the cinematography’s darkness tends to wash away the exact marks of the confrontation, while elevating the terror these men would feel in their new context.
While Leary steals every scene with his words of wisdom and sarcasm, the confrontation is a means to growing up that Frank’s wife sought as the film opens in an foreshadowing. She’d been concerned that Frank as a new father was still playing at life, still associated with dimwitted, sophomoric types; thanks to Judgment Night, Frank’s coming-of-age moment only takes a few hours in the dark.