- Rated R
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All photos © Lionsgate
Reviewed by Ezra Stead
ost remakes completely fail to justify their existences, taking films that were already popular and well-loved and rehashing them, usually in a watered down way, for easy profit. In this respect, “Dredd” is somewhat unique, reworking a property that was already made into a widely reviled flop in 1995 and taking it in a very different direction. While the Sylvester Stallone vehicle, “Judge Dredd,” infused its dystopian future tale with plenty of humor (and seriously overestimated the charm of Rob Schneider in order to do so), the new “Dredd” takes the opposite route, aiming instead for a relentlessly dark and brutal vision with no real humor at all. While it is admirable to do something different with the material, the resulting film is slick and impressive, but not much fun to watch.
Karl Urban stars as Judge Joseph Dredd, though you'd barely know it, as he never removes his trademark helmet and the film never offers even the slightest glimpse into who he is or why we should care. Judges are the future world's entire justice system, providing the services of judge, jury and executioner and frequently carrying out death sentences on the spot. This is set up in a voice-over narration by Dredd himself, much as Chief Justice Fargo (Max von Sydow) narrates the backstory in the first film, before we quickly cut to the chase. The main story of this new adaptation concerns a rookie Judge named Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), an orphan with psychic powers. This is actually one of the primary problems with “Dredd,” namely that it is not really his story. The primary arc is Anderson's struggle with the questionable morality of her position as a Judge, though the film also seems relatively unconcerned with that as well. Director Pete Travis seems much more interested in finding visually pleasing ways to shoot stuff up, which is the movie's primary strength.
At any rate, Dredd and Anderson respond to a murder report at the crime infested housing tower known as Peach Trees. Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), the vicious crime lord who rules Peach Trees, has become displeased with three of her henchmen and decided to skin them alive before throwing them off the top floor of the tower. Before they are skinned, though, Ma-Ma gives them each a dose of the popular street drug Slo-Mo, which has the effect of slowing down time for the user. The drug is obviously a convenient way for Travis to excuse a rampant overuse of slow-motion cinematography, which is really the only part of “Dredd” that actually feels inspired. In bright, colorful 3-D, the slow-motion sequences are state-of-the-art and very impressive, but it doesn't take very long for the film's hyperkinetic style to start feeling tedious.
When Dredd and Anderson take Ma-Ma's main henchman Kay (Wood Harris) prisoner based on Anderson's psychic intuition that it was he who skinned the three unfortunate men, Ma-Ma responds by locking down the entire Peach Trees complex and ordering death on both of them, as well as any residents who try to assist them. From this point on, “Dredd” is essentially one long shootout, often in slow-motion and with no real plot or character development along the way. It cannot be overstated how good the visual effects work is, but in terms of story, this is an extremely predictable and average film. It's very pretty to look at, but lacks even the campy charm of its underrated predecessor. “Judge Dredd” may have been silly and obviously trying way too hard to look and feel like “Blade Runner,” but at least it had an entertaining storyline, something that “Dredd” sorely lacks.