Dredd Review
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Though post-apocalyptic lawman Judge Dredd has been a mainstay in British comic books for 35 years, most audiences in this country are only familiar with him from the cheese-tastic 1995 film starring Sylvester Stallone. Dredd seeks to right that painful wrong in cinematic history with a new, much more faithful take on the character and tone of the original work. While the result is sure to please fans and those who like straight-up, no-frills action, an ultra-thin plot and minimalist character work wonít do much to broaden its appeal.

The breakdown is pretty simple. Judge Dredd, a one-man judge, jury, and executioner, patrols Mega-City 1, a sprawling urban zone comprising most of the American eastern seaboard. The rest of the country is an irradiated wasteland, so millions of citizens are housed in gigantic skyscrapers called Blocks. In Dredd, the hard-edged vet (Karl Urban) takes rookie Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), a candidate with psychic abilities, on an evaluation in the Peach Trees block. They quickly run afoul of Ma-Ma (Lena Heady), the drug lord who rules the block and orders the entire building sealed until the judges are dead.

  
 
Thatís really all there is to it. It takes a little while to set up the world and get the players into their starting places, but, from then out, itís a straightforward cat-and-mouse game as Dredd and Anderson evade the gang while working their way up the tower toward Ma-Ma. The positive is that the world itself is wonderfully, dense, grimy and claustrophobic, contrasted by occasional bright and surprisingly beautiful high-speed camera sequences that simulate the effects of Ma-Maís signature drug. Unfortunately, itís all in service of a by-the-numbers series of action sequences in place of a plot.

Much like the feel of the world, though, this movie gets Dredd himself exactly right. One of the biggest mistakes that the Stallone version made was in trying to humanize its protagonist. Dredd isnít a man so much as a violent force of nature. Urban plays the role as a walking grimace, ruthlessly efficient with only the darkest sense of humor. And, in deference to three and a half decades of publication history, he never does take the helmet off.

With Dredd essentially unknowable beyond being an engine of destruction, it falls to Anderson and Ma-Ma to supply anything resembling a relatable character. Thirlby adds some nice notes to the novice judge, but sheís often overwhelmed by the sheer cacophony around her. Heady could offer a master class in playing strong women, but Ma-Ma is given so little actual screen time and such underwritten scenes that her presence feels like a promise that never gets fulfilled.

As a fan of the comic books, I was thrilled to see Judge Dredd redeemed from some of the worst mistakes of the Ď90s (seriously, Rob Schneider was in it), and given an honest cinematic treatment. It gets so much right in terms of tone that itís a shame that it skimped on the parts that would make it easier to recommend to everyone else.

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