This week’s films reviewed

Robert Downey Jr, Robert Duvall and Dax Shepard in The Judge
Robert Downey Jr, Robert Duvall and Dax Shepard in The Judge
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Robert Downey Jr stars in courtroom drama The Judge.

THE JUDGE (15)

The law is an ass and the people who administer it bigger asses, in David Dobkin’s courtroom drama about an estranged family reunited under the testing conditions of a murder trial.

The Judge takes its sweet time going through the legal motions, grafting on a superfluous romantic subplot to the revelations in the dock.

Thankfully, lead actors Robert Downey Jr and Robert Duvall sink their teeth into their broadly sketched characters and energise the dysfunctional father-son relationship that provides the film with its conflict and heart-tugging emotion.

Both men relish the verbal sparring, galvanized by screen chemistry that convinces us they are chips from the same unmovable block.

The lead role of a smarmy big city lawyer, who proudly proclaims, “Innocent people can’t afford me”, is a snug fit for Downey Jr.

Like Tony Stark in the Iron Man films, this slick operator has arrogance and wise-cracks to spare, yet, beneath the impeccably tailored suits and designer shades, there beats the fragile heart of a man terrified of losing the people he loves.

As the lead prosecutor of the murder trial sagely observes, “You’re a bully with a big bag of tricks.”

Hank Palmer (Downey Jr) helps his wealthy clients to escape the State of Illinois’ prosecutorial clutches.

During one trial, Hank learns that his mother has passed away.

He ventures back to his hometown, which he abandoned 20 years ago, and tentatively rebuilds bridges with his two brothers, Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio) and Dale (Jeremy Strong), and father Joseph (Robert Duvall), who has been the community’s venerable judge for 42 years.

His mood brightens when he learns that old flame Samantha (Vera Farmiga) owns the local bar.

As Hank prepares to fly back to Chicago, Joseph is arrested for killing a scoundrel who passed through his court.

Special prosecutor Dwight Dickham (Billy Bob Thornton) is drafted in to secure a conviction and Joseph chooses local defender CP Kennedy (Dax Shepard) rather than his son to represent him.

“Your honour, I’m going to fight like a badger for you,” pledges Kennedy, whose inexperience in front of presiding Judge Warren (Ken Howard) convinces Hank that he needs to take charge of the case.

The Judge plays out the gradual role reversal of parents and children as caregivers in the rarefied surroundings of a wood-panelled courtroom.

Downey Jr and Duvall are both excellent and D’Onofrio and Strong offer sterling support as siblings in crisis.

Unfortunately, Farmiga is short-changed as the token love interest, who gives Hank a flimsy reason to stay in town.

Nick Schenk and Bill Dubuque’s script doesn’t conceal any narrative aces up its sleeve but does play fair, methodically resolving issues within the Palmer family as the court case reaches a suitably tense resolution.

RATING: 6/10

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES 3D (12A)

The adventures of turtle brothers Donatello, Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael began life in the mid-1980s as an irreverent comic book and rapidly spawned an animated TV series, a trilogy of films and a dizzying array of merchandise.

Turtle power has endured to the present day, including a computer-animated series on Nickelodeon.

It’s no surprise then that Jonathan Liebesman, director of Wrath Of The Titans, has resurrected the heroes in a half shell for the big screen.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is an outlandish, action-heavy romp that remains faithful to earlier incarnations, condensing the characters’ back-story into a snazzy comic book-style opening sequence.

Die-hard fans will enjoy the heavy whiff of nostalgia, but if Liebesman was hoping to indoctrinate a new generation, he has cowabungled it.

His film is incredibly violent, albeit bloodless, reducing two very young boys in my screening to distressed screams.

The lack of spilt blood is preposterous, especially when the turtles face chief villain Shredder, who sports armour festooned with blades.

Razor-sharp projectiles scythe through the air but miraculously don’t nick flesh.

Shredder by name but not by nefarious nature.

Leonardo (Pete Ploszek, voiced by Johnny Knoxville), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) and Donatello (Jeremy Howard) grow up in the sewers of New York City.

They flourish under rat mentor Splinter (Danny Woodburn, voiced by Tony Shalhoub), who teaches Ninjitsu to his surrogate sons.

During one of the turtles’ sorties above ground, Channel 6 news reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox) glimpses the crime-fighters, who are preparing for war with hulking terrorist Shredder (Tohoru Masamune) and his army, the Foot Clan.

Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo and Donatello fear exposure so they track down April and spirit her to their subterranean lair.

“It’s our Fortress Of Solitude, our Hogwarts, our Xavier’s Academy,” whispers Donatello, piling on the pop culture references.

Once April learns of the turtles’ noble quest to destroy Shredder, she pledges her allegiance and ropes in wisecracking cameraman Vern (Will Arnett) and prominent businessman Eric Sacks (William Fichtner), who has publicly declared war on the Foot Clan in a televised speech.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles updates the characters for the modern era.

Thus Mikey has a penchant for cat videos on the internet and the three scriptwriters shoe-horn verbal references to films and TV shows with abandon: “Maybe she’s a Jedi,” whispers Mikey after April reveals she knows Splinter’s name without an introduction.

The turtles are rendered through motion-capture performances and look rather creepy, but they somersault to perfection in action set pieces including a tumble down a snow-laden mountainside.

Alas, the hefty budget hasn’t stretched to remedying basic continuity errors like when Fox’s plastic heroine emerges from a downpour with dry, flowing hair.

Believe that and you’ll lap up this bland turtle soup.

RATING: 5/10