Justice ‘Dredd’-fully dispensed
Updated: September 25, 2012 12:20PM
Graceless, ugly and depressing, “Dredd 3D” reduces the action genre to little more than an orgy of over-the-top violence — a description that might give it too much credit for entertainment value.
This dismal time-waster is the second attempt to make a film from the long-running U.K. comic strip about a futuristic Dirty Harry-like law-enforcing Judge with the power to serve as cop, magistrate, jury and on-the-spot executioner in America’s grim dystopian future. (Honestly, if things really are going to turn out the way we’ve been shown in countless reiterations from “Death Race 2000” to “Mad Max” to “Blade Runner” and beyond, please, your honor, just shoot me now.)
Sylvester Stallone starred in the first “Judge Dredd” in 1995, which fared reasonably well at the box office despite being almost universally panned by critics — there are a whole lot of young adult males out there with disposable income. You could almost get away with saying Stallone stars in this version too (for the record, it’s Karl Urban, who played Bones in the 2009 “Star Trek” reboot), since Dredd wears full-on fetishistic leather body armor and a crash helmet that reveals only his mouth and chin. And one man’s frown and beard stubble is pretty much the same as another’s.
Make the most of that frown. It’s the one clue we’re given to the inner workings of Dredd’s character, which might best be described as disgruntled with extreme prejudice. Dredd lives, apparently, to kill bad guys as gruesomely as possible, so we can imagine he is probably thrilled by the scenario of “Dredd 3D” — though, as explained, it’s hard to tell.
Assigned to supervise a rookie Judge (Olivia Thirlby), who happens to be a mutant psychic, Dredd investigates the murder of three men in a 200-story vertical slum controlled by a ruthless drug lord named Ma-Ma (Lena Headey of “Game of Thrones”). Next, in a development lifted largely from the much-better Indonesian martial-arts film “The Raid,” he and the recruit are cut-off from the outside world and attacked by Ma-Ma’s army of criminal psychos. That means the only way to survive is working his way up to the top floor to take out the boss lady, dispensing splattery justice as he goes.
Since carnage is this film’s only real stock in trade, most of the creative effort goes into giving the audience it’s money’s worth: attempting to make the gore a little more extreme, up-close and minutely detailed than ever before. Heads explode, people are skinned alive, bullets push their way through faces in ultra-slow motion. There are times when the death ballet is rendered in such deft detail that the craft involved seems worthy of admiration. There are even a few moments, seen from the point of view of imbibers of Ma-Ma’s patented Slo-Mo drug, which slows reality down to a glittering, iridescent crawl, when the film sets aside its oppressively bleak aesthetic and achieves a sort of creepy beauty — especially in impressively rendered 3D.
Make that a double emphasis on the creepy, though, since characters tend to be dying in various flamboyantly horrible ways while under the influence.