Too many distractions in 'The Judge'

Tom Long
The Detroit News

'The Judge" is an over-stuffed film, the sort of movie that crams too much into too slight a story.

Robert Downey Jr. plays Hank Palmer, a hotshot Chicago lawyer who gets called back to his small Indiana hometown when his mother dies. Once there, he immediately clashes with his hard-nosed father, Joseph (Robert Duvall), the town's longtime judge.

It's the old story of friction between a stubborn father and his rebellious kid, and that might have been enough for a more subtle film. But instead, as will happen with Hollywood movies, complications are piled on.

The chief one has the judge being arrested for running down a bad guy he once sentenced to heavy jail time. Of course, Hank has to step in as his attorney. But no one — including the forgetful judge — knows whether he's guilty.

So there's the legal thriller component, but the thrills keep getting watered down with further distractions. Let's just say any film that has a high school romance rekindled, hints of incest, cancer, professional baseball, mental disability and repeated vomiting has too much going on, especially when some things have no tie to the basic story.

Vera Farmiga is wonderfully fetching as Hank's old flame, but aside from re-enforcing the idea that Downey is a charming ladies man, her character has little purpose. And does Hank have to have a camera-obsessed quirky brother? Not really, but pile on.

Then again, Hank can have anything he wants because he's Iron Man. OK, not really, but he's basically got the same cocky, charming, smart-as-a-whip attitude as Tony Stark. A more focused film might have brought a more focused performance, but "The Judge" is so loose that Downey relies on old tricks.

'The Judge'


Rated R for language including some sexual references

Running time: 141 minutes