Review by Matt Barone (@MBarone)
Director: Pete Travis
Stars: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey, Wood Harris, Domhnall Gleeson
Running time: 95 minutes
When adapting a bleak and violent comic book character, there are a few things you shouldn't do, and chief amongst those crimes are the following offenses: Don't cast Rob Schneider in any role whatsoever, and stay as true to the beloved source material as humanly possible. Back in 1995, director Danny Cannon committed both wrongheaded acts when he made Judge Dredd, an abysmally acted, uneven, and cheesy affair starring a confused Sylvester Stallone as the title character, whose origins trace back to the old British comic strip 2000 A.D.; not only did Cannon and company have Dredd walk around without his signature helmet, but, again, they cast Rob Schneider as his (unfunny) comedic sidekick.
Seventeen years later, though, the judge finally has his day. Dredd 3D, an amazingly violent and to-the-point romp, does everything that the '95 film should have done, giving the character a slick, sardonic sense of humor that never undermines his ability to cave in a person's Adam's apple with a club and blast deviants through their cheeks with bullets. Hats off to screenwriter Alex Garland (the writing brains behind director Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later… and Sunshine), who opens Dredd with a show-stopping chase sequence and never lets the characters stop to catch any breath after that. And Pete Travis, the film's imaginative director, upstages Danny Cannon every step of the way, lending Dredd a striking visual palette of glossy, Blade Runner-esque shine offset by dank, grimy interiors.
And then there are the "slo-mo" shots, though it's not of the generic, predictable Zack Snyder variety. The film's villain, calm yet maniacal crime boss Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) oversees the manufacturing and distribution of a drug called, yes, "slo-mo," which reduces the user's time perception to 1% of its normal speed; thus, while everyone else who's sober sees gunfire whizzing past them like lightning, those high off slow-motion find their reactions and physical impacts decreased significantly in quickness.
That happens quite often throughout Dredd, since the eponymous cop (Karl Urban, in a spot-on performance) and his new trainee, Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby, cast against type but handling the brutality with panache), get locked into Ma-Ma's terrain, a Mega City One high-rise called Peach Trees that houses 75,000 registered residents. Forced to blast their way through all of her goons, on their way to Ma-Ma's top floor headquarters, Dredd and Anderson skip the first two parts of their employers' code, "Judge, Jury, and Executioner," and go right for the third.
It's clear that, in making Dredd and attempting to restore the character's once-good name, Travis and Garland had a simple plan and saw it all the way through: Give the fans all of the carnage and black comedy they've been wanting and never look back. For that, the second shot at giving comic writer John Wagner's creation an effective big screen presence is a rousing triumph.
Efficiently able to transfer their own excitement for the material onto the screen, the filmmakers avoid pretension, exaggerate the anarchy (shots of a guy's face burning to a crisp from the inside out and skinned bodies splattering on the ground are wonderfully sick), and defy any pre-release skepticism. Believe it or not, Dredd is one of the year's best genre movies. Memories of Rob Schneider cracking wise alongside Sly Stallone, be damned.
Review by Matt Barone (@MBarone)