DREDD (Also Blur-Ray) (Two Stars)
U.S.: Pete Travis, 2012 (Lionsgate)
I. Dredd Again
Dredd 3D is a futuristic action/crime saga about a gravelly-voiced, black-masked crime fighter named Judge Dredd. In a world with precious few rules and lots of crime and slow-motion, he’s the whole bleepin’ show. He’s the judge. He’s the jury. He’s the executioner. Maybe he sweeps up afterward.
Whatever else he is, he‘s also the central character in a movie that gave me no pleasure of any kind, even illusory. Dredd 3D is another big-bucks comic book show, this time based on the famous, culty graphic novel by John Wagner (writer) and Carlos Ezquerra (artist). But though the picture seems to have a higher pedigree than most — good names, a sharp futuristic nightmare setting, plus lots of visual style, lots of the old ultra-violence, and something that might even pass for satire — despite all that, it’s disappointing.
Should I have enjoyed it more, even if I don’t have an advanced degree in Dreddology? Maybe. The credits (the Dreddits?) sound promising. A cast that include Karl Urban (Lord of the Rings and Star Trek) as Dredd and Olivia Thirlby as trainee judge Anderson. A script by novelist Alex Garland, Danny Boyle’s sometime collaborator (The Beach, 28 Days Later, Sunshine) and a self-proclaimed Dreddhead. Direction by Pete Travis, whose first big feature hit was Vantage Point, a presidential assassination thriller told from multiple viewpoints (like Rashomon gone amok), a movie that at least tries to be different.
Along with producers Andrew Macdonald and Allon Reich, Garland and Travis both seem determined to do right by Dredd. According to the press notes, both of them are admirers of the original comic — and though neither one declared it to be the Great British (Graphic) Novel, I got the idea they would, if pressed.
I guess that’s what we could call the “New Literacy” — a desire to be obsessively faithful to the comics you loved as a pre-teen or teenager, and to the movies made from them. Dredd 3D, a smarter bloodbath than many, takes place in the new millennium, at a time when the U.S. has become irradiated, and is divided into two huge urban complexes of about 400 million people apiece. We‘re in what used to be the Eastern area, stretching between what used to be Boston to the one time Washington D. C. (later The Mad Tea Party) and it’s run by all these pistol-packing judges — instant adjudicators who sometimes make Judge Roy Bean look like Mahatma Gandhi.
Dredd (Urban) not only is a one-stop justice center. He rides his own special Judge Bike, wears that stiff-black-Judge-mask-red-helmet-thingie (which makes him look like a cross between Batman and Robocop), carries his own special Judge blaster, and has been empowered to instantly arrest, try and execute anyone he deems sufficiently a bad guy. Justice Scalia, eat your heart out.
In this day in the life of our hero/anti-hero/ judge/jury/executioner, we see him running a Training Day with new Judge recruit, Anderson (Thirlby) who has strange psychic powers and therefore doesn’t have to wear a stiff black mask. (Thank God). The two of them are investigating what the notes describe as a “200-story vertical slum,” run and terrorized by the evil legions of Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), villainess extraordinaire. Ma-Ma not only bosses this slum, and regularly orders massacres, but she and her minions, the Ma-Ma Clan, have cornered the market on Slo-Mo, a designer drug that makes everything go slower, or seem to go slower, resulting in lots of arty slow-motion scenes (perhaps inspired by Sam Peckinpah) of people falling vertically off the 200-story slum and plummeting slowly to the cement below. Those are the highlights of Dredd 3D, at least between massacres.
As Training Day in Mega City One plummets along, Judge Dredd and his Dredlette arrest gang member Kay (Wood Harris), whom they then drag along with them everywhere. Kay, strangely passive, proves to be in possession of damaging information about Ma-Ma, or perhaps the formula for Slo-mo, or for Dredded Wheat. And Ma-Ma will kill everybody and hurl them off her high-rise to keep Kay from telling anything to anybody.
II. Dredd Reckoning
Hmmmm. I don’t know if any of you have had deranged fantasies of running around a 200-story vertical slum in a stiff black mask, dodging gun battles and massacres and periodically going into slow-motion attacks, or being hurled out of windows or whatever and dropping slowly to the street. But, if you have, this movie will almost certainly satisfy them all, perhaps forever.
It’s the same old stuff, a little better filmed than usual, but not in any earth-shaking way. Perhaps part of the problem is that damned mask, a device that obviously works better on the printed page. Urban has contrived a kind of Clint Eastwood gravelly growl, to use on Garland’s minimalist dialogue. But you can’t see Dredd’s face, so he can’t really express much, except a sore throat. In the comics, I don’t imagine this matters much. In the movie, it gets deadly.
The writing is strangely familiar. The acting ranges from good to audible, sometimes too audible. The action scenes are well-staged, but dopey. The visuals are snazzy. The 3D is okay. I think it’s safe to say nothing much happens that you can’t guess beforehand, even if you suffer from amnesia. I was waiting for someone to fall upwards in slow-motion, and go whizzing up the high rise, or for Dredd to try to give somebody a French kiss. But all that may have to go on hold until the sequel, Dredd 4D.
III. Night of the Living Dredd
There was an earlier Judge Dredd movie of course. The one with Sylvester Stallone in a stiff black-helmet- mask-thingie, which came out in 1995, was directed by Danny Cannon, and had a pretty interesting supporting cast (Max von Sydow, Jurgen Prochnow, Diane Lane and Armand Assante). But it had such lousy reviews I gave it a pass. I wish I’d given this one a pass too, despite all the good reviews it’s gotten. Dreddophiles, or Dreddies, or whatever, might find that blasphemous, or Indreddible. I’m sorry. I‘m sure I’d enjoy the books much more than I enjoyed this. And I realize Judge Dredd is probably a sophisticated, well-done comic, and maybe doesn’t deserve all these bad jokes and silly puns I’ve been making, in self-defense. But there are only so many comic-movie superheroes you can process, before getting glutted, or Dreddened, or feeling like you’ve been tossed into the Dredder. A prospect to fill you with Dredd, or leave you Indreddulous with fear. Face it: You’d be better off Dredd.
Anyway, as we were saying… Dredd. 3D. He’s the Judge. He’s the Jury. He’s the Executioner. He’s the cop. He’s the parole officer. He’s the police doctor. He’s the criminal. He’s the murderer. He’s the victim, He‘s the writer. He’s the director. He’s the producer. He’s the costume designer. He’s the caterer. He’s the key grip. He’s the comic book character. He’s the fan boy. He wrote this review. He edited this review. He’s reading this review on the Internet, and making a print-out. He’s tearing up the review into tiny pieces and trying to swallow it. But he can’t do it because he’s wearing this big black stupid mask, and every time he tries to eat something or say something, he either sounds like Clint Eastwood trying to chew stale spaghetti, or he throws up. In slow-motion. Dreddful!