Most fans of the British cult comic loathed the 1995 Sylvester Stallone movie of “Judge Dredd,” a Hollywood take on the character that lost a lot in translation. (They weren’t the only ones.) They might be more inclined to embrace this grittier take on the character, which is far more faithful to the source material. The rest of us, though, aren’t likely to find “Dredd 3D” particularly entertaining.
Dredd, for those unacquainted with him, is a future cop in a dystopian society dominated by mega-cities with gigantic high-rise ghettos. The law enforcers are called judges because they make on-the-spot decisions on guilt or innocence and sentence offenders, even to death—a decision they immediately carry out. Dredd, who never removes his helmet, is stern and uncompromising in his chosen role, dispensing justice quickly and decisively. And he’s a super-cop besides, armed with a battery of ammunition that ranges from regular automatic-weapon fire to armor-busting bullets, incendiary missiles and other atmosphere-altering grenades.
In the script fashioned by Alex Garland, Dredd’s day is limited—after a chase in which he takes down three perps in a mall—to one of the city’s big housing units, Peachtrees, which despite the nice-sounding name is a 200-storey cesspool of humanity. It’s controlled by female gang leader Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), who’s disposed of three luckless fellows by having them skinned and dropped down the building’s central atrium after a shot of the latest drug she’s peddling, Slo-Mo, which slows down time for its users, so the falling fellows will experience the terror of their deaths longer than they otherwise would. Dredd comes to investigate the triple murder, bringing along the rookie he’s been saddled with, Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), whom he’ll pass yea or nay on letting into the corps on the basis of her performance under him.
After the two take Kay (Wood Harris), one of Ma-Ma’s chief lieutenants, into custody, she shuts down the structure, trapping them inside, and orders all her men, and the other residents, to attack them. The rest of the picture is just a succession of episodes in which Dredd and Anderson fend off the attackers while figuring out how to escape. Luckily she has psychic powers—which she uses at crucial moments along the way—that help out. A climax of sorts comes when Ma-Ma calls in four crooked judges to serve as hit-men and Anderson is captured and slated for execution.
In terms of plot “Dredd 3D” is oddly similar to the Indonesian film “The Raid: Redemption” of earlier this year. But while that picture focused on Rama, an eager young policeman with remarkable martial arts skill played with boyish charm as well as physical dexterity by Iko Uwais, Dredd—who in Karl Urban’s hands amounts to little more than a leather-clad mannequin with a perpetual scowl beneath his helmet and a Clint Eastwood growl—is pretty much a solemn bore. And while “The Raid” gave us plenty of amazing stunts performed by actual human beings, this picture is just gunfire, explosions and fights with lots of blood and gore streaming out into the audience to take advantage of the 3D effect. Thrilby frankly isn’t enough of a presence to add any humanity to the mix. And Headey makes an uninteresting villainess.
The movie is made well enough from a technical standpoint, but the vision it offers of a blighted future is one we’ve seen so often that it’s humdrum, and the decision by director Pete Travis, cameraman Anthony Dod Mantle and editor Mark Eckersley to resort to slow-motion so often results in a few striking images, but also frequently brings the action to a crawl. One also has to contend with a score by Paul Leonard-Morgan that’s positively deafening.
So while Dredd fares better here than in Stallone’s Hollywoodized version, the picture fails to convince that this Robocop retread deserves screen treatment at all.