Flat Dredd

Dredd 3D, the second live action adaptation (the first being the execrable 1995 Sylvester Stallone starrer) of the popular UK comic book/graphic novel character Judge Dredd — which originated in the anthology publication 2000AD — isn’t bad. Sadly, it’s not great either.

Like so many adaptations, the production gets the style right, but also like so many reboots, it misses the substance. Granted, much of Dredd’s possible thunder was stolen by the original 1987 Robocop, but this new Dredd could have done far worse than to lift wholesale from that far superior film’s heart, soul, and guts.

Instead, they seemed to have lifted the plot of The Raid Redemption, since the basic story is essentially the same (cops enter an apartment building controlled by a gang and must fight their way up and out) — the huge difference being that while The Raid is mostly modern martial arts, Dredd is mostly sci fi gun fu.

Even so, director Pete Travis (last seen — by me at any rate — helming the frustrating and annoying Vantage Point in 2008) has nailed the look, as well as collected a fine cast headed by the great Karl Urban (Lord of the Rings, Star Trek), Olivia Thirlby, and Lena Headey, Unfortunately, that’s about it.

While the original comic writers balanced Dredd’s unbending morality with viciously funny irony and self-aware power plays, this film’s Dredd says and does nothing sharp or imaginative. The action scenes just happen. There’s nothing involving or engaging in them. There’s barely a set-up, or any sort of real pay-off. Nothing is built upon anything, so nothing has a chance to seem triumphant or thrilling.

Worst of all, Dredd is not nearly as Dreddish as he should have been. He wastes ammo. He raises his hand to halt his rookie and their hostage, then unnecessarily (and dangerously) tells them to stop too. He shoots a spying camera he should have simply pulled down (in fact, he should have stopped his rookie from shooting the lens, in a silent reminder to save ammo).

But the breaking point for me came after all that. A betrayer starts shooting through a wall to get to a hiding Dredd. Two armor-piercing rounds blast through the wall toward Dredd. He sees them coming toward him. Does he dodge? Does he duck? Does he move at all? No, he doesn’t. He just stands there, and takes the third bullet.

For a second, I thought it was some sort of clever ruse or trap for the betrayer, but no. Dredd takes the shot because … he’s stupid? The Dredd I read is not stupid. The Dredd I read is the ultimate lawman. The Dredd I read is the consummate pro. This Dredd looks the part, but is missing most of his brains (and thanks to the shot, much of his guts too)*.

I called The Raid an “Itchy and Scratchy movie” (because they fight, and fight, and fight and fight and fight), but even Itchy and Scratchy has more vicious invention in ninety seconds than Dredd has in its entire ninety minutes. It fills its running time with movement, fine acting, and some cool visuals. But it’s mentally stolid, and intellectually/emotionally unrewarding.

In short, neither the character nor the film is sharp. It could, and should, have been much better. Although it’s in unnecessary 3D, Dredd is flat.

* = Btw, the resolution to the gut shot is not particularly convincing either.