There is an addictive drug featured in Dredd that is called Slo-Mo because it slows the taker’s perception of time down to about one percent of normal. Watching this 2012 action movie seems to have the same effect, as this Pete Travis-helmed production often feels like stumbling backward through Jell-O. Unfortunately, it’s nowhere near as much fun – or so I’ve heard.
Based on the British comic strip Judge Dredd, this flick is not a remake of 1995’s Judge Dredd starring Sylvester Stallone. Featuring comic creator John Wagner as consultant, this is an attempt to remain truer to the source material while playing to an audience that, in all likelihood, would have little knowledge of this somewhat uncommon character.
Dredd opens by informing us that the United States has been transformed into the Cursed Earth, a wasteland dotted by a number of cities. One such city is Mega-City One, a violent metropolis that houses roughly 800 million people. There are tens of thousands of crimes reported daily, which calls for the use of Judges to instil order. One such Judge is Judge Dredd (Karl Urban).
One day, Judge Dredd is tasked with assessing a rookie named Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby). She’s a psychic/mutant, but she’s failed the Judge aptitude tests. Judge Dredd and Anderson head to a slum called Peach Trees to take on a drug gang led by Ma-Ma (Lena Headey). This proves to be more trouble than anticipated and Judge Dredd and Anderson find themselves hemmed in at Peach Trees.
The plot is fairly straightforward and there isn’t much character development to speak of. This isn’t the sort of movie that evolves as it goes, nor is it the sort of movie that requires a lot of consideration. There is some rather fleeting commentary on the acceptance of violence as part of daily life, I suppose, but Travis and screenwriter Alex Garland don’t seem too concerned with making a point.
That’s all well and good, of course. A film doesn’t have to be deep or astute in order to be good. But in the case of Dredd, there’s very little to hold on to. Travis’ picture seems to take itself very seriously, sinking in to languid techno beats, grimy action sequences, CGI-assisted blood and guts, and clichéd dialogue.
To make matters worse, none of the characters are very interesting. Urban’s perma-frown is somewhat amusing, I suppose, but his understated grimness is really a take it or leave it affair. Some critics seem infatuated with his “deadpan” approach, but I don’t count myself among their number. His characterization crosses the line into dullness far too often to entertain or captivate.
Dredd’s ugly, grave tone works to its benefit at times and displays a world of hopelessness and despair, but the pseudo-artistic plunges off buildings and the flash-and-run shoot-outs lack actual ingenuity and clarity. It’s hard to get a bead on where characters are and some of the more impactful sequences lack impact and consequence.
The eddying splinters of glass, hovering bullets and huffs of blood may prove stylistically enthralling to some and the purported deadpan nature may do the trick for others, but there’s little that separates Dredd from other similar exercises in absurd solemnity and graphic decadence. In the end, the utter lack of fun sinks this moping vessel into miserably unexceptional terrain.