Wednesday, January 30, 2013

"Dredd" (2012)

Starring Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby and Lena Headey
Written by Alex Garland
Directed by Pete Travis
Rated R - Violence, drug use, language
Running Time: 95 Minutes

"I am the law." Dredd (Karl Urban) is a Judge, a member of the police force of the future. The judges patrol Mega City One, a huge metropolis sprawling from Boston to Washington DC. They have broad powers to dispense justice, including executing perps on the spot if deemed necessary.

A new drug called Slo-Mo is appearing on the streets, a narcotic that makes it feel like time moves at only 1 percent of its normal speed. Dredd is paired with a rookie named Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) who also happens to be a psychic, and the two decide to investigate a triple homicide in the massive housing complex known as Peach Trees. Peach Trees is controlled by a vicious gang run by the drug lord known as Ma-Ma (Lena Headey).

When Dredd decides to arrest and interrogate the man responsible for the murders instead of executing him on the spot, Ma-Ma is forced to take drastic action. She locks down the tower, trapping Dredd and Anderson inside, and then offers a massive bounty on their heads. Now the two judges are alone, outnumbered and outgunned.

"Dredd" has the unfortunate position of being another adaptation of the source material but one that has to contend with the poor reputation of its predecessor, "Judge Dredd," a Sylvester Stallone vehicle.  While "Dredd" is easily the better of the two films, it seems like it couldn't quite overcome that stigma and didn't exactly ignite the box office. Dredd himself is something of a cult character, without much mainstream recognition or appeal beyond what people knew of the Stallone movie.

I myself am not particularly familiar with the original Dredd comics, other than basic knowledge of the premise and character. But this film seems much more in keeping with what I know of those comics than the silly Stallone feature, which even opens by showing pictures of the Dredd comics. This Dredd is no-nonsense, no filler. Running a lean 95-minutes, and dispensing of anything resembling character development, the film guns straight through.

In this film, we never even see Dredd's face. That's right - Karl Urban spends the entire movie with a helmet and mask on. Thirlby, on the other hand, takes on the role of the audience surrogate who we are supposed to care about and relate to. Even that is pretty basic, though, as it's just your standard "rookie toughens up" story.

The real draw here is, well, the violence. "Dredd" is carefully designed to be a lean, mean action picture and that's all it promises and all it delivers. There's a lot of violence here, much of it quite well constructed (in the technical sense). Watching Dredd cut his way through Ma-Ma's men can be a ton of fun, and director Pete Travis does his best to keep things fresh. There are some impressive set pieces on display, all the more impressive because of the film's low budget.  I'm told the film is gorgeous in 3D, but I don't care about that, so I didn't bother with it.

"Dredd" is very similar in terms of its setup as "The Raid," and to be honest I preferred "The Raid" if only because of its incredible martial arts sequences. But you can sort of take these films as two sides of the same coin - a different way of tackling a similar premise. But "Dredd" is still full of cool action. It'll never win any awards, but I have a feeling it'll be one of those cult movies that develops a small, dedicated following.