Review: 'Dredd' falls short
Published: Monday, September 24, 2012
Updated: Monday, September 24, 2012 19:09
“Dredd” doesn't seem to be anything that it promises and yet isn’t wholly terrible.
Set in the future where law enforcement officers are judge, jury and executioner all rolled into one, it’s difficult to pin down what the filmmakers were aiming for. Contrary to what the commercials and promos would suggest about the plot, it’s actually not so much about taking on a drug cartel as it is about finding your way out of a locked room.
Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) and rookie Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) respond to a call about a multiple homicide at Peach Trees, which is basically a giant apartment building. Once they get there, they find out that the murders are related to the business of selling Slo-Mo, a drug that seems to slow down time to 1 percent of its normal speed. (Prepare yourself for useless slow motion scenes that are equally irritating and hilarious.)
Oh, and there’s one more thing I should mention. Judge Anderson is a psychic, because you know, writing a good plot is hard. Anyway, the psychic thing comes in handy and she finds the murderer in no time flat. Since you can’t execute a person based on a psychic reading, as Judge Dredd points out, they decide to lug the bad guy around behind them like the giant plot device he is.
Ma-Ma (the leader of the gang that sells Slo-Mo and played by Lena Headey) orders the building to be locked down and calls on the inhabitants of Peach Trees to murder the two judges or get out of the way, which everyone seems happy to do.
That plot synopsis was exhausting, I know. I promise that I’m done now.
All that stuff happens in the first half hour. The rest of the movie basically consists of the two judges and their arrested suspect running around a locked building, avoiding bullets and having awkward conversations.
As for the Karl Urban fans (I mean, the man was Eomer and Dr. McCoy), you’ll probably be a little disappointed. Urban gets stuck. He is the glue that holds the whole movie together, and he is simply stretched a little too thin. He certainly gets less screen time than he deserves and a lot less than the movie actually needs. It also kind of feels like he has to really concentrate when he frowns, and he frowns a lot. The worst error in regard to Karl Urban-dom is that we never see his face. I have no idea if he ever takes off the helmet in the comics, and I don’t care. That nice of a face should be shoved in front of the camera as often as possible, helmet-free.
To be honest, I’m a bit sick of this whole rookie-in-training plot line. If you need a way to explain things to the audience, either do a voiceover or have an idiotic but funny sidekick. Judge Anderson is sort of useless and mostly annoying. The only character development she gets is the fact that she’s an orphan and has psychic abilities, which the writers use to get out of writing interesting things.
Unfortunately, the movie also has to compete with the 1995 film “Judge Dredd.” In the 1995 version, Sylvester Stallone plays the titular character of Judge Dredd. He just has more presence in the role than Urban, and you get to see his face. Pretty much everything about the 1995 movie is better than this recent one. The rookie role (played by Diane Lane in the older version) is not psychic and not annoying. And did I mention that the bad guy in the 1995 film is played by Armand Assante?
That’s not to say that the movie is terrible, because it isn’t. There are enough bright spots that sort of don’t mind that someone keeps playing with the slow motion controls (you know, because the drug is called Slo-Mo and we forgot that YouTube has tons of videos of slow motion things). Dredd gets off a couple of jokes and (I think) even makes a reference to the Sylvester Stallone version, with “I am the law!” The movie does have one of my favorites: gratuitous violence. No, really. It’s like everybody’s head is a balloon full of blood, just waiting to burst at the slightest provocation. At one point in the movie, Dredd actually gets shot, and I swear I could hear Bones’s voice yell, “Dang it, Jim! I’m a doctor, not a judge!”
In short, the movie just needs fewer rookies, more Karl Urban and more of Karl Urban’s face, lots more of Karl Urban’s face.