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Too Easy to Say It's Dreddful, but It's True

  • Jeffrey Huston Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • 2012 9 Sep
  • COMMENTS
Too Easy to Say It's <i>Dredd</i>ful, but It's True

DVD Release Date: January 8, 2013
Theatrical Release Date: September 21, 2012
Rating: R (for strong bloody violence, strong language, drug use and some sexual content)
Genre: Sci-Fi Action
Run Time: 95 min.
Director:  Pete Travis
Cast: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey, Wood Harris

Dredd is a film that lives up to its name in all the worst ways. 

To say that the title also serves as a sufficient one-word review is the easiest way to tee-off on this thing, but that admittedly reductive slam also has the virtue of being true. What a waste this is.

Actually, the even more appropriate D-word would be "derivative," because that’s exactly what Dredd is in all respects. It’s a pulpier resurrection of a moderately successful Sylvester Stallone property from nearly 20 years ago that itself was derived from a graphic novel. The source material isn’t highly original, either, with its dystopian post-apocolyptic world where Martial Law rules through an iron first. "Only one thing fights for order in the chaos," the voice-over tells us: "Judges."

If there’s a twist, it’s that the unaccountable officers – who are judge, jury and executioner all in one – are actually the heroes, courageous rather than corrupt, meeting out vigilante justice upon the dregs of an already dark and desolate society. As the titular Judge likes to growl, "I am the law."

For all of those (ahem) inspirations, Dredd’s gritty banality is nothing more than the cinematic equivalent of a first-person shooter video game, and indeed the narrative feels as if it were written for one. Judges must work through various levels of a tower, taking out baddies and laying waste to bodies with brutal efficiency (all amped up by a Nine Inch Nails style techno-metal soundtrack). For anyone to enjoy sitting through the violent and profane montony this movie wallows in, they would have to already be drones to the aesthetic.

Mega City 1 – a megalopolis of nearly a billion people – is rife with violence, with a particular hotbed found in the mammoth housing high-rise known as Peach Trees. There, 75,000 residents are held hostage in lockdown by The Clan which rules it, led by prostitute-turned-drug lord Ma-Ma (Lena Headey, HBO’s Game of Thrones). Judge Dredd (Karl Urban, Star Trek) and his rookie psychic protégé Anderson (Olivia Thirlby, No Strings Attached) are trapped as well, holding prisoner the one Clan member that Ma-Ma doesn’t want talking. It’s Two vs. a mafia, yet no tension rises as to how the whole scenario will ultimately go down.

This is an exercise in All Style/No Substance where even the style is lacking. The rusted and filthy cityscape is a nonspecific future world, with the camera work a mix of pedestrian coverage and hand-held chaos. Slow-motion is recycled for gratuitous “wow” shots (and to highlight the 3D), showing off particles as they explode or bullets as they ripple through mouths, necks, and torsos.

These overcranked clips feel lifted from glossy if redundant Visual Effects Demo Reels rather than being anything distinctly imagined or crafted. That it all takes place in such an unpleasant world makes the experience generally depressing.

Dredd doesn’t even know how to be campy. Overly-scripted lines reveal some intention to be so (ex: Dredd saying “Let’s give them the good news” before unleashing hell on the bad guys), and Lord knows the movie could’ve used some silliness. Yet quips like that are dropped almost too dryly and earnestly, without a wink to how completely ridiciulous that kind of dialogue is. The whole dirge could’ve used a few more tongues in cheek rather than bullets.

There are no characters here, just types and archetypes. As Dredd, Urban seems to imitate Clint Eastwood’s steely whisper more than Stallone’s warbled machismo. His stiff movements, programmed persona, and faceless visage (we never see behind that visor) come off as nothing more than a low-rent robocop. Headey’s Ma-Ma isn’t remotely imposing, physically or psychologically. She snarls through a cut-scarred face but lacks any subtext of intelligence or intimidation.

The only performance that resembles something of a character comes from Thirlby. As the psychic trainee, she gives as much mental complexity and emotional spontaneity as the limited material allows. Still, those efforts are undercut by the erratic use of her powers. If a moment needs her to be a step ahead, the powers are in full. If another moment needs her to be taken captive for cheap dramatic tension, she sees nothing coming. The script has no intention of making her telepathy consistent, just convenient.

Dredd is a dark and dated artifice of masculinity. It may flaunt an impenetrable surface but it’s not protecting anything of substance or value underneath. Goth-gamers may geek out over the gory carnage, but anyone else will find it all patently ridiculous.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol Content: A hallucinogenic dubbed SLO-MO serves an ongoing plot catalyst, and is consumed several times through a bong-like vile, to trippy effects.
  • Language/Profanity: Profanity is consistent throughout, the F-word being most common.  Many others are used regularly as well, included the S-word, A-word, B-word, and the Lord’s name taken in vain several times.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity: A woman is briefly seen naked, bending in a suggestive sexual position.  A woman kneels in front of a man and oral sex is implied.  A man threatens a woman with sexual assault.
  • Violence/Other: A lot of gory violence throughout, both gun and fight related.  A pedistrian is violently hit and killed by a vehicle.  A head melts from the inside.  People are beaten, bloodied, broken and occasionally crushed throughout.  Many more are shot up, riddled with bullets, and at times slow-motion is used to dwell on and enhance the gun violence as bullets pass through various parts of the body, including faces.  Gun violence is common throughout.  Some instances of knife/blade violence.  Three bodies are beaten to bloody pulps then dropped from a skyscraper into a market area.  Several glimpses and close-ups of those gory bodies are seen.  An arm is blown off.  Heads are shot up.  Two different gun wounds are self-repaired (bloody, open wound seen and stitched).  Slo-mo close-up of a head smashing into pavement.  A body is smashed by a fast-closing giant metal door.

Publication date: September 23, 2012