'Dredd' begs for sequels

Olivia Thirlby in Dredd. (Handout)

Olivia Thirlby in Dredd. (Handout)

Steve Tilley, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:17 AM ET

Sylvester Stallone wouldn't last a minute in this world.

A steel-toed reboot if ever there was one, Dredd (or Dredd 3D, if you prefer its tridimensional version) doesn't concern itself with 1995's Judge Dredd and Stallone's hammy take on the titular futuristic supercop.

Instead, it draws on the long-running UK comic book that gave birth to Judge Joseph Dredd back in the '70s, and casts genre flick it-man Karl Urban as a grizzled, helmet-wearing Dirty Harry for the post-nuclear age.

With the absolute minimum amount of plot setup needed, Dredd pairs the skilled and stoic Judge Dredd (Urban, never once removing his helmet) with rookie Judge Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), who has failed her admission tests but is being given a second chance due to her psychic abilities. Interrogating scumbags is a whole lot easier when you can just read their minds.

Like Training Day without all the awful backstabbing, the two are dispatched to investigate a triple homicide in a 200-storey slum at the heart of Mega-City One, the crime-ridden urban sprawl that stretches down much of North America's east coast.

But when the Judges show up, the apartment block's ruler -- the scarred and ruthless Ma-Ma (Game of Thrones' Lena Headey) -- fears her captured lieutenant (Wood Harris) will spill the beans about the massive drug operation housed in the building. So she orders the entire tower locked down and calls for the heads of the Judges trapped inside.

While the story is oddly reminiscent of last year's Indonesian action film The Raid: Redemption (production on Dredd was already underway when The Raid was revealed), Dredd doesn't bow to Hollywood conventions. It feels like a throwback to a time when action movies were simply movies with action in them, and didn't have to rely on relentless CGI setpieces to hold viewers' attention.

When Dredd does rev up the action, though, it's with grim glee. Thanks to the convenient plot device of a designer drug that stretches out a user's perception of time, bullets perforate baddies' heads and guts in gory, artful slow motion as Dredd dispenses lethal justice without hesitation or remorse. He is the law, after all.

With a relatively modest budget compared to mega-movies like The Dark Knight Rises, Dredd's wonderfully tangible production design offers a gritty taste of what a day in the life of Judge Dredd is like, bolstered by lean performances from Urban and Thirlby. It's focused, fat-free and begs for sequels.

Dredd does falter a bit in the last third, when a dangerous new group of adversaries show up and are dealt with almost offhandedly, as if director Pete Travis (Vantage Point) and writer/producer Alex Garland (28 Days Later, Sunshine) realized they needed to step on the gas to keep the movie to a trim 90 minutes.

Still, it's an action movie much like Judge Dredd himself -- straightforward, confident, ruthless and with occasional flashes of grim humour. All in all, very well executed.

steve.tilley@sunmedia.ca


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