After a nuclear war decimated most of the country, America’s remaining population lives in a giant walled metropolis called Mega City One. Crime runs rampant in the massive city with 17,000 crimes reported each day. The only thing standing between the citizens and chaos is Judges from the Hall of Justice. Each Judge, riding around the city on a customized motorcycle, is tasked not only with maintaining the law, but also acting as jury and instant executioner. The toughest of all the Judges is one called Dredd (Karl Urban). A man of few words, Dredd is assigned to determine the fitness of prospective Judge Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby). She has failed some of the required tests to be a Judge but Dredd’s bosses want her to go through a field trial because she’s a psychic and they feel her mutant power could give them an edge. Sent to a 200-story residence tower where three men have been skinned alive and thrown from the top floor, Dredd and Anderson discover they are in the territory of Madeline Madrigal (Lena Headey), better known as the ruthless drug kingpin Ma-Ma. She controls all the inhabitants of the building as well as the production and distribution of an addictive drug called Slo-Mo that gives the user a feeling that time is passing at one percent of normal. When Dredd and Anderson arrest one of Ma-Ma’s operatives, she locks down the building and sends all her men after the two Judges.
“Dredd” is one of the few movies among the glut of 3D releases that was both shot in 3D and is worth the extra cash for a ticket to see the enhanced visuals. I should probably warn you about the graphic nature of some of those images as they involve bullets passing in super slow motion through people’s cheeks and blowing a massive whole out the other side with bloody gums and a few teeth still attached. Still, it looks pretty cool in 3D.
“Dredd” takes the tried, tired and true premise of the near-collapse of society after a nuclear war, the cramming together of the remaining survivors in a relatively small space and the lawlessness that breaks out as a result, and doesn’t do much with it. It’s a film that relies heavily on the cramped location of the residence tower and the visual flair of its 3D violence and drug-addled perspective to sell the story of future peacekeepers that are almost as bloodthirsty as the criminals they execute, using DNA-locked guns that fire various types of ammunition depending on the situation. It’s the kind of future no one wants to live in and yet movie audiences can’t seem to get enough of the dread (pardon the expression) and despair this post-apocalyptic vision. While “Dredd” is a pretty standard entry in this genre of flick, it uses its visuals in a way that makes it more interesting than most.
The effect of the drug is presented in a way that makes it clear why those who take it find it enjoyable. Colors are amplified, details are visible that can’t be seen otherwise, splashing water takes on the glitter of diamonds and even the most mundane aspects of life become endlessly fascinating. Slo-Mo doesn’t seem to have a downside although I’m sure there must be one; otherwise it wouldn’t be illegal (please save your marijuana arguments for some other time). The 3D just adds to the beauty of the drug’s impact on the user. It also appears to be where the majority of the effort in making the film was focused and not on what the characters should do the rest of the time.
“Dredd” tends to come to a dead stop when Dredd and Anderson are making their way through the building. A great deal of time is spent showing the pair creeping through dingy hallways as they head towards the next violent encounter with some of Ma-Ma’s men. While the action scenes tend to be pretty good, the bits in between drag on too long, causing the momentum of the film to be lost. I understand that every second of the movie can’t be filled with action or drug special effects; but what is on the screen should at least be somewhat interesting. Much of the time, it isn’t.
The actors don’t exactly plumb new emotional depths with their performances but do a decent enough job. The production probably saved money on Karl Urban’s hairdresser since he never takes his helmet off. The only part of his face that’s visible is his mouth and chin. Dredd speaks in a low grumble that rarely changes inflection. He comes off more as a robot than a living person. This is how the character is presented in the comic strip with little normal human interaction. While it works in the comics it feels very “one-note” in a movie. Olivia Thirlby plays her newbie Judge Anderson as a bit of both wide-eyed rookie and hardened veteran. While her psychic abilities are a gimmick to move the story along at times, she is at least a fairly normal acting character when compared to Dredd. She brings a hint of humanity to a world of cruelty and actually feels remorse for her actions as a Judge. Lena Headey seems to be having the most fun of the main players as the ruthless Ma-Ma. There are hints of her cruelty scattered throughout the film and they become perfectly clear in a flashback that shows how one of her henchmen became the perfect computer hacker. Headey relishes her evil character and knows just which buttons to push to make the audience fear and loathe her. She also is probably the most interesting person on screen in the film. I’d like to have seen her character given more to do.
“Dredd” is rated R for language, some sexual content, strong bloody violence and drug use. The sexual content is very brief and is what is seen in one of Anderson’s psychic visions. The violence is very graphic, gory, and bloody and sometimes in excruciatingly vivid slow motion. The drug use shown is of Slo-Mo and is delivered in a device used like an inhaler. Foul language is common throughout the movie.
While the story tends to slow down to a crawl at times but the visuals are the star of this show. Shot with 3D cameras and using mostly practical effects, “Dredd” delivers a feast for the eyes but comes out a little malnourished for the mind. Action fans will largely love it.
“Dredd” gets four guitars out of five.
The four films coming out this week run the gamut from serious Oscar contenders to animated kids fare. Vote for the next movie I see and review.
Hotel Transylvania—When monsters want to get away from it all, they go to Count Dracula's Hotel Transylvania, a lavish resort where they can be themselves without humans around to bother them.
Looper—In the future, when the mob wants to get rid of someone, they will send their target 30 years into the past, where a “looper” – a hired gun – is waiting to mop up.
The Master—A traumatized World War II veteran falls under the spell of the charismatic leader of a new religion.
Pitch Perfect—College student Beca knows she does not want to be part of a clique, but that's exactly where she finds herself after arriving at her new school. Thrust in among mean gals, nice gals and just plain weird gals, Beca finds that the only thing they have in common is how well they sing together.
Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any film of his choice currently playing in theatres.
Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.