What right does "Dredd" have to be so awesomely entertaining?
For one, the film is a remake of a silly 1995 Sylvester Stallone comic book adaptation, and as we all know, remakes are Hollywood's visual representation of a smug, half-hearted shrug. It's directed by Pete Travis, the guy behind the instantly forgettable "Vantage Point," in godforsaken 3-D. Worst of all, "Dredd"'s plot – cops trapped in an apartment complex of guns, gangsters and doom – was effectively used already this year in the underground action hit, "The Raid: Redemption."
Yet somehow, despite all of that going against it, "Dredd" ends up being one of the most vigorously entertaining movies of the year so far and one of the best glorified B-movies to come since my cherished "Piranha 3D." Talk about defying expectations.
"Star Trek"'s Karl Urban plays Judge Dredd, a street cop who keeps order in the futuristic dystopia of Mega City One by being judge, jury and executioner. While training a new recruit with psychic abilities (Olivia Thirlby, Ellen Page's BFF in "Juno"), Dredd runs across a strange murder in a massive slum/apartment complex called Peach Trees.
The murder turns out to be linked to Ma-Ma ("300"'s Lena Headey), a sadistic drug dealer who's dealing a new brand of narcotic called Slo-Mo, which does exactly what you think it does. When Dredd and his recruit get too close to the truth, Ma-Ma locks down the complex and puts a bounty on the two judges, who must now shoot their way to freedom.
And boy do they shoot their way to freedom. "Dredd" could easily be the most violent movie of the year. Limbs explode, flares and bullets are fired (most of the time in glorious, over-saturated Slo-Mo induced slow motion) and people are dropped to their death from more than a hundred stories up. One character even bloodily plummets right onto the camera in eye-popping 3-D.
It's a grimy, gritty and often gaudy apocalyptic atmosphere – the Slo-Mo sequences, with their overly bright colors combined with the dreamy bloom effect, look almost sickly, like a watercolor nightmare. An early mall gunfight ends with blood and bodies getting clumsily cleaned up, a morbidly normal part of everyday life in Dredd's world.
Thankfully, the grim environment never suffocates the giddy B-movie fun "Dredd" hopes to provide. Travis' direction, combined with Alex Garland's screenplay, hits the perfect grindhouse tone of fun, bloody mayhem that never allows it to get too bogged down in seriousness. There are a few moments when the story slows down a bit, but an outrageous action scene is never too far away.
While its gory gunplay may not match the brutal ballet that is "The Raid: Redemption," "Dredd" contains two elements its Indonesian counterpart was utterly devoid of: story and characters. Garland (the writer behind "Sunshine" and "28 Days Later") doesn't reinvent much, but he knows how to keep the story moving in exciting directions. The movie doesn't feel like a video game, with Dredd and his protégé defeating each level of the complex; instead, it's a futuristic "Die Hard"-esque game of cat and mouse (if animals could use machine guns).
Garland's characters are fun to follow as well. Urban plays Dredd with a cold, growly voice (think Bale's Batman voice but far more natural) and a permanent scowl. Dredd is seemingly an emotional brick of a man, but Urban finds a way to give him nuance and make him still likeable. We want him to succeed and survive because we like him, not just because he's the main character.
Thirlby is better than the usual inexperienced partner character as well. As goofy as her character's psychic abilities are (I chuckled when they were first mentioned), they create intriguing dynamics for the character, especially her mental battles with Ma-Ma's most trusted underling, played by Wood Harris from "The Wire."
I know it may be strange to talk so much about story and characters in an unapologetic action B-movie when there are awesome explosions, gunfights and one-liners to drool over. Even the most testosterone-packed action sequences, however, can cause the audience's eyes to glaze over if there's no reason to care about who's shooting at what and why.
"Dredd" provides just enough to get the viewer involved and then satisfyingly delivers the genre pleasures that action fans crave. And they've been craving them for a while. Sure, there have been a lot of attempts, like "Lockout" (too dumb), "Machete" (too message-heavy) and "Hobo with a Shotgun (too ugly). But "Dredd" is the first B-movie in a while in which the B stands for badass.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Matt Mueller
Published Nov. 26, 2014
King Washington - comprised of bassist Billy Lee and guitarists Tyson Kelly and George Krikes - hails from Los Angeles, so it's safe to say the recent hammering of cold winds and sleet isn't exactly something they're used to. The guys are more used to wearing petticoats and frills - their signature outfit - than heavy winter coats. Even with the weather, though, Milwaukee feels like a second home for the indie rock band.
Published Nov. 25, 2014
Bad news, Marcus Majestic employees; your Black Friday crowds are going to even bigger than usual this weekend. The Brookfield movie house is one of 30 theaters nationwide that will witness the power of a fully operational 88-second "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" trailer.
Published Nov. 24, 2014
As the creators of the Found Footage Festival, Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett are no strangers to bad ideas. And they'd have it no other way. For the past decade, that's exactly what Prueher, Pickett and the Found Footage Festival have done: showing people the best of the worst cheap VHS tapes the world has to offer, videos that can often make the tape from "The Ring" seem like a blissful rom-com.
Published Nov. 23, 2014
I'd like to say that I really, really liked "Mockingjay," and that it's my favorite of the franchise. As of right now, those statements are true, but I guess I can't say for sure until next year when the story is finally allowed to end.
Published Nov. 20, 2014
The trailer for "Pitch Perfect 2" came out this morning. The original cast - Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, etc. - is all here, as well as a few new faces. Among those new faces, however, is one very familiar to sports fans: Packers linebacker Clay Matthews - flanked on both sides by fellow Packers TJ Lang, Josh Sitton, Don Barclay and David Bakhtiari.
Published Nov. 19, 2014
In case there was a question about this matter, "Dumb and Dumber To" is - for lack of a better word - dumb. Very dumb. There's entertainment where you turn your brain off, and then there's this, where maybe it's best if you leave your brain out of the theater altogether just in case its rollicking, unrepentant stupidity is somehow contagious. But did I laugh? Yes.
Published Nov. 17, 2014
They aren't old enough to legally smoke, drink or even drive. If "This Is Spinal Tap" was in theaters, they wouldn't be able to see it without their parents, and if you add together the ages of all five band members, the quintet's combined age (63) would still be younger than Sir Paul McCartney (72). But while most kids' dreams of rock glory only go as far as that - dreams - Mad RED Kat has already started acting on its aspirations, forming a band and playing gigs across the city.
Published Nov. 17, 2014
Much like Stewart's incredibly influential television show, "Rosewater" is about navigating through troubling political times, topics and outrages with lightness, humor and humanity. And for the most part, the funnyman does a respectable job with his first go-around, his familiarity with the melding of politics and humor mostly making up for his unfamiliarity with writing and directing for the big screen.
Published Nov. 15, 2014
When most people think of "Harvey," their minds probably jump to the classic 1950 Oscar-winning Jimmy Stewart film. But before Stewart got a crack at it, the story of Elwood P. Dowd and his pooka started out on stage. Now, it's returning to its origins with a run at the Milwaukee Rep starting Tuesday, Nov. 18 in the Quadracci Powerhouse.
Published Nov. 13, 2014
For many bands, the health of the group relies on giving one another space when need be. In most cases, that's pretty easy; after all, after practice or a gig, usually everyone can go in their separate directions. That's a little bit difficult for Chris Wagoner and Mary Gaines, the core duo of the Madison-based jazz band The Stellanovas, who celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary this year.