Dreddtime Stories

In the undercity, Adam Clarke is known as The Creep.

While many bemoaned the general pointlessness of rebooting the Spider-Man franchise earlier this year, most would agree that Judge Dredd deserved an immediate second shot at a big screen adaptation. I don’t think anyone would’ve complained if Pete Travis’ Dredd had opened a year after the Stallone film to wash the earlier film’s taste out of the public’s mouth. As it is, we’d have to wait until 2012 for a ‘proper’ Judge Dredd film.

I’m not overly familiar with the 2000 A.D. comics or the Sylvester Stallone Judge Dredd film. The general consensus is that the film failed to capture the tone and style of the comics, offering 90 mins of beefy guys having a scenery chew-off interspersed with the comedy stylings of co-star Rob Schneider.

This new Dredd sees Karl Urban don the helmet as the titular Judge (and, unlike Stallone, he never once removes it). In the future, Judges function as judge, jury and executioner to all the violent criminals in a future American dystopia. Dredd is reluctantly joined by Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), a rookie Judge with psychic powers, in an investigation of gruesome murders in a gigantic apartment complex. These murders are the handiwork of crime boss, drug lord and former prostitute, Ma-Ma (Lena Headey). Ma-Ma’s the leading supplier of Slo-Mo, an addictive substance inhaled through clear asthma puffers that alters its users perception of time, transforming seconds into hours. With the apartment undergoing an inescapable lockdown, Dredd and Anderson are sealed in, unable to leave without blasting through Ma-Ma and her skyscraper full of thugs.

Dredd is an entertaining, if somewhat undercooked action film. The plot of the film is basically a futuristic upgrade of the terrific Indonesian action film The Raid: Redemption (in Dredd‘s defense, its script was finished years before The Raid was filmed). For a film that opens with a potentially interesting future world with its own bizarre customs and problems, it’s disappointing to abandon any development of those ideas in favour of gunshots. If you’re looking for a great ‘base-under-siege’ action thriller, you’d do better by watching the original Assault on Precinct 13 instead.

Great action movies tend to fall on either side of what I call the Dual Schwarzenegger Scale. On the one side, you’ve got a smart film like Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which gives you spectacular action, well-drawn characters, a memorable villain, a compelling backstory and some interesting ideas. In this range of action classics, we have films like Robocop, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Escape From New York and the aforementioned The Raid.

On the other side of the scale, you’ve got Great Trash like Commando, which offers dumb-but-quotable dialogue, gory kills, an endearingly silly villain and a refreshing commitment to its own absurdity. Trash classics on this side of the scale include Point Break, Predator and Roadhouse. You can’t fault them for being sleazy, hyper-masculine or silly because they desire to be all those things. Pure commitment to a silly script results in gems like the inimitable Death Wish III, a film that entertains with its gleeful worship of the gods of bad taste and stupidity.

Dredd falls hopelessly in the middle of the scale. It disappoints because the script doesn’t have much meat to it and the film never embraces itself as cinematic junk food the way the Expendables sequel did. Fans of the character will be pleased to see the character done right, but Dredd‘s threadbare plot lends itself better to comics where it’d be over in 22 pages instead of an hour and a half.

Hopefully Judge Dredd’s next film will see the character in more thoughtful territory or, at the very least, not shying away from his pulpy, trashy roots.