If you had any doubt that we are in the thick of that cinematically fallow period between Summer Blockbuster season and Oscar Hopeful time, please allow me to direct your attention to Dredd 3D.
Sure, this dark and violent film, directed by (if Wikipedia is to be believed) former social worker Pete Travis from a screenplay by Alex Garland, is more faithful to its comic-strip source material that the 1995 Stallone film Judge Dredd. But is being darker and more violent than a film that bills Rob Schneider near the top enough to make a movie worth seeing? Not really.
According to the film’s opening and closing voiceover (I’m paraphrasing), it’s the future and everything sucks. The 99% lives in fortified Embassy Suites by way of Section 8, and cops, now called “Judges,” are doing more with less (as they say in the newspaper business), no longer just detaining criminals but convicting and sentencing them. No more of those pesky “alleged”s! Sign me up!
If this film is any indication, it’s cool that the Judges occupy these conflicting roles, because nearly every crime they investigate they witness. If you’re looking for a meditation on abuse of law enforcement power, you’re reading the wrong review, hippie.
To Dredd’s credit, the story is a tight one: Judge Dredd (Karl Urban — you might know his as Bones in the Star Trek remake) and his slip of an inconsistently psychic sidekick Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby are called to one of these high rises after a drug dealer named Ma-Ma (Game of Thrones’ brotherfucker Lena Headey) three-dimensionally kills some recalcitrant underlings.
And that’s not the only 3D thing that happens! Because guess what the dealt drug in question, “Slo-Mo,” does? It makes your brain think everything is happening veeeeeeeery sloooooowly. Which gives the filmmakers lots of opportunities to show us slow bullets tearing through bodies, shattered glass to slowly fall, water droplets to suspend in the air. It is kind of fun the first couple times this happens! After that, I started getting antsy.
After one such sloooooow shootout, Dredd and Anderson arrest one of Ma-Ma’s underlings, driving her and her band of International Male: Mad Max Collection clad employees to lock down the entire building in an effort to kill the Judges before they can book him.
And that’s pretty much the story — people run around the building trying to kill Dredd and Anderson, Dredd and Anderson run around trying not to get killed. And occasionally something happens really slowly, 3D explosion, etc. There’s a lot of violence, and it’s all done competently. (Except for one scene in which a bad guy gets his inevitable gory comeuppance, which the filmmakers inexplicably cut out of the shot. I won’t spoil it for you, but if you see the movie, you’ll see why the first thing I said to my companion after the movie was “why didn’t they show us his hand? I wanted to see that!”)
The thing is, you’ve seen all this before, and you’ve seen it more engagingly. Peter Weller’s characterization of RoboCop conveyed more oomph than the Dredd character ever did — one has to wonder why the filmmakers decided to cast Urban, when they could have gotten any lug to wear a helmet and speak in short sentences that contain the occasional deadpan quip. (There’s a lot of talk in some circles about whether or not Dredd should ever take off his helmet. Stallone did in his movie, Urban doesn’t in this one. I’m cool with “helmet on,” and don’t believe my gripes about characterization are merely because I couldn’t see Urban’s eyes.)
The role of Dredd’s partner, the blonde and only-briefly helmeted (it apparently interferes with her psychic abilities, which, whatever) Anderson, was a thankless one — with Dredd as Mr. Monosyllabic, she was stuck with most of the cheesy expositional stuff. And she also had to read minds and shoot people! What a day.
Typically, when you’re looking at one of these single-location kinds of movies (Die Hard, Speed, hell, even Snakes on a Plane), though they’re action films, the driving force and heart is remains the characters, themselves. You have to give a shit about at least one of them, and be worried that they might not survive due to things like Hans Gruber, Dennis Hopper, or one or more snakes.
Unfortunately, with Dredd, it’s hard to care about anyone, even a little bit. The entire film feels hollow and is, ultimately, unsatisfying — it’ll just make you want to go home and watch Die Hard, Speed, or, hell, even Snakes on a Plane.