Droid’s Birthday Series: The Star Chamber (1983)


Hey, wouldn’t you know it, it’s my birthday again! And I’m still doing my birthday series!


I know what you’ve all been thinking… Why hasn’t Droid finished his Birthday review series!? It’s the hot question, and the blogosphere is a frenzy of activity. Everyone’s dying to know the answer. Well, it’s really quite simple. I ran headlong into a film that I had no interest in reviewing. I fell asleep on my first attempt at watching it. Then months later I tried again, and through sheer will and determination I made it all the way through. Only when it came time to write the review, I stared intently at a blank Word document. Inspiration did not come. I abandoned it. Guilty as charged your honour. ‘The Star Chamber’ made me do it.

The Star Chamber (1983) Page 01Judge Steven Hardin (Michael Douglas, disinterested) is fed up with the legal system. A pair of men are on trial for the rape and murder of a young boy. The prosecution has an open and shut case, and all signs point to conviction. But the defence has an ace up their sleeve. During the investigation, the police had turned a blind eye to proper procedure, and when presented with the facts, certain pieces of key evidence are deemed inadmissible. Through gritted teeth Hardin throws the case out. In retaliation, the murdered boy’s father tries to shoot the defendants. When the father commits suicide in jail, Hardin’s had enough.

The Star Chamber (1983) Page 02Hardin’s friend and mentor Judge Caulfied (Hal Holbrook, sleepwalking) approaches him and regales him with a fanciful tale of a “star chamber”. A secret, shadowy gathering of judges who re-try the cases that “fall through the cracks”. The cases that were failed by the justice system, such as that of the murdered boy. Although reluctant, Hardin presents his case and the verdict is unanimous. Guilty! Sentence? Death! Anonymously, a hitman is hired, with the job of informing the defendants with the revised verdict.

The Star Chamber (1983) Page 03But wait, Detective Harry Lowes (Yaphet Kotto, wasted) informs Hardin that the defendants were actually innocent (of that particular crime), and there’s conclusive evidence that proves it. Despite Hardin’s pleas for clemency, the star chamber say “Eh, these things happen. The hitman’s on his way. They weren’t nice guys anyway.” This all leads to one of those generic empty warehouse finales where the hitman stalks the hero and your humble reviewer (Droid, bored) is thoroughly underwhelmed.

The Star Chamber (1983) Page 04There is, ever so briefly, an interesting film here. The police’s investigative bungling, the machinations of the court, where justice isn’t (it seems) served. Hardin’s growing frustration with the legal system, and his struggles with his conscience keeping him up at night. He doesn’t like what the law has become, where guilty men can walk free on a technicality. These are interesting themes and the film sets up the situation well. But enter Holbrook’s Judge Caulfield and the whole film deflates into a tedious, slowly paced, poorly plotted generic thriller.

The Star Chamber (1983) Page 05You can also see the Michael Douglas deflate before your eyes. During the opening scenes, you can tell he’s committed. He’s interested in the material and he’s got something to work with. But Holbrook shows up, pin in hand, and bursts the bubble. It’s a shame. The fault lies mainly with screenwriter Roderick Taylor (who dabbled with similar vigilante revenge fantasy drivel with ‘The Brave One’, with similar results) and director Peter Hyams. The usually reliable Hyam’s in particular seems to have been utterly uninspired by the material, and he’s made a slow, laborious slog of a film.

The Star Chamber (1983) Page 06Because the film’s plot chooses to adhere to generic thriller requirements, the developments later in the story also undercut the interesting aspects of the opening twenty minutes. What’s the film trying to say? In the opening scenes, it’s lamenting the failing legal system. But as the film’s story plays out, the message is that vigilantism isn’t the answer. No, these are not mutually exclusive, but in the revelation that the defendants were in fact innocent, the strength of the opening argument is undercut. Ignoring the events that lead to the case’s dismissal, the simple fact is, justice was served. The men were innocent of the child’s murder. Whatever anger or frustration the film has managed to generate from the effective opening scenes is swept away in a flurry of genre conventions.

The Star Chamber (1983) Page 07I’d really like to talk in detail about the actors’ performances, but they’re universally so forgettable that I cannot muster the words, or the inclination. I consider this to be a travesty when I take into account the fact that the film is populated with memorable actors such as Kotto, Holbrook and Douglas.

The Star Chamber (1983) Page 08Even the look of the film is unattractively dull, with Hyams delivering a film of muted, slightly murky visuals. He paces the film like a man who must plod through six miles of knee deep mud to deliver bad news. I don’t know if a quicker pace, and more energy behind the camera, would have changed a lot, but at the very least it would have mercifully made the film shorter.

The Star Chamber (1983) Page 09There’s not much more to say about ‘The Star Chamber’. It’s clearly not a film I would recommend to anyone but my worst enemy, and it’s a justifiably forgotten entry on the CV’s of all involved. I find ‘The Star Chamber’ guilty of a number of offences. The most serious of which is the heinous, indefensible waste of Yaphet Kotto. I hereby sentence it to spend an eternity gathering dust on the bottom shelf of the thriller section in an abandoned Blockbuster, before sometime in the future when the apes take over it is discovered and makes earth’s new overlords very, very bored.

The Star Chamber (1983) Page 10

I hereby unleash a very angry ape upon The Star Chamber.Angry-Ape

For Droids a jolly good fellow!

2012 – ?

2011 – Captain America: The First Avenger

2010 – ?

2009 – The Collector

2008 – The Midnight Meat Train

2007 – Hot Rod

2006 – Bon Cop Bad Cop

2005 – The Dukes of Hazzard

2004 – The Manchurian Candidate

2003 – Gigli

2002 – Signs

2001 – Rush Hour 2

2000 – Hollow Man

1999 – The Iron Giant

1998 – BASEketball

1997 – In The Company of Men

1996 – Chain Reaction

1995 – Babe

1994 – Clear and Present Danger

1993 – The Fugitive

1992 – Buffy The Vampire Slayer

1991 – 1989 – Mini-Reviews of Slacker, Young Guns II and Lock Up

1988 – The Blob

1987 – The Lost Boys

1986 – Flight of the Navigator

1985 – Weird Science

1984 – The Philadelphia Experiment

1983 – The Star Chamber

1982 – ?

1981 – ?

1980 – ?

1979 – ?

1978 – ?

Droid Sig

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About Judge Droid

In between refining my procrastination skills I talk a lot of shit about movies and such.

66 responses to “Droid’s Birthday Series: The Star Chamber (1983)”

  1. Continentalop says :

    Hey. I actually liked the Star Chamber. But funny review.

    And wish the garbage can happy birthday from me.

  2. Jarv says :

    Happy Birthday.

    This sounds like poo, but that was very funny.

  3. Droid says :

    So what idiotic thing that I don’t really need can I buy today?

  4. tombando says :

    I remember when it came out, and thats it, really. Sounds like a generic 70’s holdover film that even tne cast has little time for. Holbrook, Kirk jr. And Katto should all work.

  5. ThereWolf says :

    Angry Ape!

    Very funny. I didn’t like ‘Star Chamber’ either – interminably dull. Probably really good on paper, then poorly realised.

    Happy Birthday, R2.

  6. Xiphos0311 says :

    Jack Reacher (December 21st)Maybe

    The only reason to see that movie is to see the train wreck that it has to be. I mean Cruise, really? Tommy boy is like 5’4″ I don’t particularly care for the series but man even I know this is a big mistake and a huge load of jizz directed right on the face of the fans of the series. Casting Cruise is saying fuck you fans give us your money you assholes we can do whatever we want and as long as the words Jack Reacher is there you will bend over and take it hard.

    • tombando says :

      Never heard of Reacher til your book review Xiphos……so who Should play him? Marky Mark? Russell Crowe? Novak Djokovic?

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        Crowe maybe a decade ago might have worked. Marky Mark is barely taller then Cruise and generally blows as a lead but kicks ass a supporting actor. Not sure who the Eastern Euro is.

        There are a couple of actors who physically are in the ball park but I don’t know their names or if they are decent actors. My choice is a kid called Joe Manganiello. Even though he is kinda youngish for the part and way to Eytie looking he is 6’5″ about 230 or so. If they bulk him up a bit he’s just about a carbon copy of Reacher body wise which is a major part of the Reacher story. More importantly he’s a half way decent actor.

  7. tombando says :

    Oh okay. Big Dolf Lundgren type then. Djokovic won the US Open last year, Serbian tennis ace.

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