"Dredd" gratuitously over-the-top, hyper-violent and fun
95 min., rated R.
There must be an old saying in Hollywood, that if a movie bombs, just reboot it. The jokey, sub-par 1995 Sylvester Stallone-starrer "Judge Dredd" didn't exactly earn much fanfare, so that's why we now have "Dredd," the second adaptation of the British comic strip and its badass character. Grimier than the varnished "original" and apparently more faithful to the comic book, "Dredd" is just a great deal of fun.
In the future, the old world is now a ruined wasteland with the post-apocalyptic dystopia of Mega-City One lying between Washington, D.C. and Boston. A 200-level skyscraper named Peach Trees sits among the crumbled structures, and it's owned by Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), a ruthless ex-prostitute with facial scars and rotten teeth to prove her damaged past. She has her residents do her bidding because she has them hooked on a drug called Slo-Mo. Fighting for order in chaos is the hardened Judge Dredd (Karl Urban), a judge, jury, and executioner, who's assigned to take out a psychic rookie named Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) into the field and put her through the paces. When Ma-Ma spots the judges in her block, she locks it down and isn't about just let them walk out. Then again, remember, Dredd is the law!
Directed by Pete Travis (2008's "Vantage Point") with no-fuss efficiency, "Dredd" is stylish, relentless, and gratuitously hyper-violent with over-the-top visual flourishes, as well as a nasty, blackly comic streak. Devoid of any pretensions whatsoever, the film offers refreshingly minimal exposition and stripped-down, meat-and-potatoes storytelling. By coincidence, the premise of a drug lord controlling a slummy apartment building stands in the shadow of "The Raid: Redemption," but the story and characters aren't rich and, therefore, pretty inconsequential. As a result, the confrontation between Dredd and Ma-Ma feels obligatory and somewhat underwhelming. That's no fault of Headey, who dots her part with blood-thirsty relish.
Dredd is an enigmatic somebody. He doesn't get a backstory or even a pair of eyes (which are covered by a nifty helmet), but he does speak in an intimidating growl and apparently takes good care of his talking lips. Dredd is played by Karl Urban, who mostly acts with his unsmiling mouth. It's kind of a lifeless, one-note performance that's still wry and crowd-pleasingly badass anyway. What you see is what you get, and there are many of laughs just from Urban's deadpan voice. Thirlby is fine, displaying a morsel of human emotion and compassion.
The effects of Slo-Mo (the drug, that is) are artistically depicted in the most literal fashion, making time crawl but also looking dazzlingly oversaturated and vibrantly trippy. And "Dredd" might contain one of the most artful shots of bullets bursting through skin and blood spurting. One can't imagine a single fanboy not watching it and not having a giddy time. It might be overkill to some, but it's a blast to everyone else. If this were to turn into an ongoing franchise, we wouldn't pass negative judgment. Maybe Urban could even remove his helmet once or twice.