Saturday, September 22, 2012
“Vantage Point” director Pete Travis and “28 Days Later” scenarist Alex Garland have conspired to make a hopelessly abysmal reboot of the British “2000 AD” comic strip. New Zealand actor Karl Urban steps into the boots that Sylvester Stallone wore in director Danny Cannon’s “Judge Dredd” that bombed at the box office back in 1995. Despite its estimated $50 million production cost, “Dredd 3-D” (* OUT OF ****) looks like a low-budget, made-for-television movie. Although it takes place in a distant, post-apocalyptic America of the future, this science fiction saga delivers little high octane action and no narrative revelations. Unlike the first “Judge Dredd” epic with its flying cars and motorcycles, “Dredd 3-D shuns “Blade Runner” airborne automobiles and hovering motorcycles. This shallow, straightforward British/South African co-production confines itself strictly to only a few settings. Most of the low octane action occurs in an enormous skyscraper complex that houses about 60-thousand citizens. Whereas the original “Judge Dredd” concerned our hero’s efforts to exonerate himself for being framed for the murder of a journalist on the basis of DNA evidence, the new “Dredd” amounts to a pedestrian police procedural set in a sprawling city state. Karl Urban channels “Dirty Harry” with his raspy, low-key, monosyllabic dialogue delivery. Indeed, he never removes his helmet during this 95-minute, R-rated urban outing. Essentially, Urban looks like Beetle Bailey because only his mouth and chin are visible. Granted, this is in keeping with the way Judge Dredd appears in the comic strip, but “Dredd 3-D” is a feature film, not a one-dimensional comic strip.
“Dredd 3-D” unfolds in a post-nuked America. Basically, only one city exists, and it is Mega City, with some 800-thousand residents. Mega City occupies the east coast of the United States, roughly encompassing Boston and Washington, D.C., while everything else that lies outside its wall consists of scorched wasteland. The Stallone “Judge Dredd” occurred in part outside the walls of Mega City,” while “Dredd 3-D” is set wholly within Mega City. Crime has reached epidemic proportions, with twelve serious crimes occurring every minute and 17-thousand happening each day. Street judges are so overworked that they can at best only intervene in six percent of all crime. When “Dredd 3-D" opens, our helmet-clad hero is straddling a motorcycle and pursuing three villains in a car as they swerve through traffic while using a new drug called ‘Slo Mo.’ Judge Dredd (Karl Urban of “Star Trek”) has no problem subjugating all three criminals. At the Hall of Justice, he learns that he has acquired a new partner, an aptly named Cassandra Johnson (Olivia Thirlby of “No Strings Attached”), who possesses psychic powers that enable her to read an individual’s mind. Earlier, Cassandra failed an aptitude test that would have qualified her to be a judge. These street judges have the legal authority to sentence criminals on the spot and even execute them if their misconduct is bad enough. The Chief Judge wants to get Cassandra another chance so he assigns her to Judge Dredd to reassess her candidacy as a judge. “Dredd 3-D” is reminiscent of the Dirty Harry police thriller “The Enforcer” where Harry was saddled with a rookie detective. Anyhow, these two are dispatched to Peach Trees, a ghetto-like high rise where a major criminal, Madeline Madrigal (Leana Headey of HBO’s “Game of Thrones”), dominates the drug trade. She has three men injected with Slo Mo, skinned alive, and hurled to their deaths from the top of the tower. Dredd and Cassandra are dispatched to investigate. No sooner have they set foot on the premises and arrested one suspect than they find themselves trapped in the tower. The ruthless criminals have shut Peach Trees down and sealed it off completely so that nobody else can exit it. What ensues is a blood bath with a high body count that our indestructible heroes survive with a close shave or two.
“Dredd 3-D” is as one-dimensional as a cardboard punch-out book. The characters are sketchy, and the actors who incarnate them bring little humanity to them. Whereas “Judge Dredd” was a sardonic exercise in mock-heroic action, “Dredd 3-D” is as humorless as it is moribund. Leana Headey is looks like a Cosmo model with scars on her right cheek. Actually, all the villains look pretty cool, but they are at the same time incredibly incompetent. At one point, they devastate an entire floor trying to perforate our heroes with three, six-barreled Gatling gun style General Electric M134 mini-Vulcan machine guns. These weapons can pour out between 2000 and 6000 rounds of 7.62 mm shells a minute. Villains like these dastards constitute little challenge for our heroes. If this weren’t lame enough, even Cassandra with her psychic powers cannot divine the thoughts of a suspect that Dredd and she have already arrested and who is standing behind her. This villain is able to free himself from his bonds and abduct her! Nothing about this Judge Dredd movie is innovative. A showdown like this between our heroes and an army of hoodlums was depicted with greater savagery in “Punisher: War Zone” (2008) and the most recent movie “The Raid—Redemption.” As for the 3-D effects, they add nothing to this lackluster exercise in déjà-vu. Originally, 3-D movies were designed to make the audience duck when a flying projectile winged its way at them. 3-D movies like “Dredd 3-D” resemble the images that were once available on those vintage Viewmaster Viewers where you loaded a picture disc into it. Not surprisingly, “Dredd 3-D” lives up to its title.