Directed by: Pete Travis
Cast: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey
Running Time: 1 hr 35 mins
Release Date: September 21, 2012
PLOT: A law enforcer of the future (Urban) who acts as judge, jury, and executioner becomes trapped in an apartment complex run by drug thugs with his rookie partner Anderson (Thirlby).
WHO’S IT FOR? There’s no doubt that fans of this character will be able to take this more seriously than others. Outsiders, especially those just looking for some decent science fiction action, will be bored and wondering how Dredd can walk down the stairs so well with that helmet on.
EXPECTATIONS: Well, the first Judge Dredd was pretty goofy. Would this have any equivalents to Rob Schneider’s character?
Karl Urban as Judge Dredd: There’s a fine line between delivering minimal dialogue with grit as compared to boredom (just ask Steven Seagal). Urban’s goofy helmeted performance is the latter, muttering his lines like he’s tired of saying them. As for creating a character, Dredd becomes nothing more than a well-armed man with nothing noteworthy to him except for the destruction he creates. He does seem, however, to be an excellent cheater at “Pin the Tail on the Donkey” wearing that helmet all of the time.
Olivia Thirlby as Anderson: In her first big action role, (running from electricity in 2011’s The Darkest Hour doesn’t count) Thirlby is generic at best as a rookie in this movie, AKA the audience’s surrogate to Dredd’s workday. With her character’s skill of mind-reading spoiled by its patchy usage (it is used and not-used at the script’s convenience) Thirlby becomes only an accessory to the story, and not a sidekick with some type of prominence of her own.
Lena Headey as Ma-Ma: Certainly a different type of gang lord, Headey presents this menace as an angry narrator for a yoga video — she has a calming sense to her rage. A nasty scar on her face and an unkempt haircut boost the ugly aesthetics of this villain, who is more menacing because of the violence caused by the entourage than anything she does herself.
TALKING: A new drinking game could be built around how many obnoxious times Dredd addresses Anderson as “rookie.” Though his dialogue is thin, there are plenty of goofy moments in which his reactions to certain statements can be comically under-whelming. Dredd is one of those bloody movies that has tough guy action dialogue, but delivers it unsuccessfully with a straight face (or helmet).
SIGHTS: In a move that smells like it was inspired by the successful slow-motion cinematography seen in things like Jackass 3D, Dredd 3D is high on slo-mo, using it as a special effect to a drug (named SLO-MO) that affects both characters and glasses-wearing viewers. It’s likely the most unique visual this movie has to offer, using heavy lighting, sparkles, and the go-to “I’m falling!” 3D visual sequence. Other than that, Dredd 3D only makes good use of its third dimension (and inflated ticket prices) with its deep shots of apartment hallways. So, there’s your tag line – “Dredd 3D: Come for the killing, stay for the hallways.”
SOUNDS: Electronic scores have played brighter days than in Dredd 3D, which takes the concept of synthesized bass to a mindless lull. Here, it returns the repetitiveness of a score’s dynamic notes to the unfortunate skipping of a record player, but this time using such a tactic to hopefully create swelling tension. A goofy heroic guitar riff comes in at the end, to solidify this movie’s loss in the battle against its own cheesiness. Cranking up the volume for the entire mix doesn’t help the movie with such a mission as well.
BEST SCENE: The over-the-top violence of Dredd found fleeting worth when Thirlby used a man’s machine gun against his own throat, with multiple bullets. I didn’t see that coming.
ENDING: Please, if we’re getting a sequel to this, make us follow around a different Judge. This guy’s boring.
QUESTIONS: You can read my interview with Karl Urban here.
REWATCHABILITY: The first viewing is mindless enough. I would only watch it with the goal of helping me fall asleep to it.
Ah, the future. Super guns, special effects drugs, and no fancy schmancy Miranda Rights; a firing range is probably the equivalent of a Bar exam. And yet we are reminded that The Dark Knight himself might be onto something when he prefers to handle his justice by the creed of “No guns, no killing.” Aside from the whole humane part, perhaps Batman knows that there’s more fun to be had in kicking ass than shooting a bullet through a druggie’s cheekbone? (During Dredd, I couldn’t help but think of a strong moment of comic relief in Dark Knight. Asked by a thug shabbily impersonating him as to why Batman is above him, the Dark Knight replies, “I’m not the one wearing hockey pants.”)
Dredd is the type of action movie that’s only “character driven” if the main character is blood. If that’s the case, then yes, this movie is full of character. As for human characters? This is one of those bullet bonanzas in which guys both bad and good are locked in the same confined space, and you don’t care about the life or death situations either of them are in. Yes, even the guy with his name in the title. It’s a cop movie (unlike End of Watch, shall we say) in which you’d rather follow around some other Judge, and not the one we’re stuck with.
The easiest comparison to Dredd, other than a food fight heavy on the ketchup, is a movie called The Raid: Redemption. If you’re an action fan, you probably saw this movie, and you loved it. By ways of coincidence (something any viewer of both certainly admit) Dredd shares the same set-up as The Raid — a justice force is trapped in an apartment tower that they thought they could simply take down, and they have to fight for their life while a gang lord orchestrates many of the apartment people to fight to their death. It’s a bizarre concept, but I can’t fault either of these bad guys for doing such. After all, free rent in a ratty apartment with poor lighting and a machete underneath a kitchen table is still free rent (as promised in The Raid, at least).
However, in ways more than one, any comparison between these films of the same idea is lost by Dredd. In fact, this film is embarrassed by all the comparisons as The Raid gets right everything that Dredd gets wrong. Compared to the diversified action of The Raid, in which extensive sequences lead to invigorating (and gruesome) finales, Dredd fires gun, people fall down, Dredd moves on. It loses the immediacy needed to fuel the tension of such a fight for survival. As Pauline Kael once criticized about the violence committed by Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry character, “killing is disassociated with pain; it’s even disassociated from life.” The modern reaction to that criticism (for Magnum Force) is to at least conjure up a Cirque-du-Shoot-Em-Up out of such finality-less brutality. Dredd doesn’t do the job. In the beginning, there’s something cute involving a flare gun and someone’s mouth, but after that the basic thrills are essentially null. The centerpiece meaning for Dredd’s existence aims well below red spectacle, and instead makes for a numbing experience in which characters you don’t fear for fire guns at characters you don’t fear. Instead of being cold justice’s version of A Time To Kill, Dredd offers the dinky justice of a “Judge Judy” episode.
FINAL SCORE: 3/10