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 â€“ cops trapped in an apartment complex of guns, gangsters and doom â€“ 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 â€“ 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 protÃ©gÃ© 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 Feb. 10, 2016
Johnny Depp was surrounded by orange people when he played Willy Wonka in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." Now he gets to play one himself: Donald Trump, in Funny Or Die's faux-biopic "The Art of the Deal: The Movie."
Published Feb. 9, 2016
On the 26th day of the second month of the 2016th year, "Fuller House" will be unleashed upon the human species, and the world will know darkness and despair unlike any other. In the meantime, here's the first official footage of the rebooted sitcom.
Published Feb. 8, 2016
Yesterday, the Denver Broncos beat the Carolina Panthers in what could only be technically described as "a competitive football game." But who actually won yesterday's great American unofficial tribute to commercialism? Here are the real winners and losers of Super Bowl 50.
Published Feb. 6, 2016
Filmmaker Brian Oakes remembers James Foley well, growing up together as friends and remaining tightly knit all the way until Jim's abrupt death. And it's that James Foley - his life, not his death - that Oakes hopes to pay tribute to with "Jim: The James Foley Story."
Published Feb. 5, 2016
OnMilwaukee recently caught up with Milwaukee-born animator Owen Klatte to talk about the making of "Anomalisa," the process behind turning puppets into people, stop-motion sex and the movie's Oscar odds against "Inside Out."
Published Feb. 4, 2016
Are you exhausted by Donald Trump's presidential campaign and the media hullabaloo constantly around it? Do you have about ten free seconds of time to waste? Then you might just love TrumpDonald.org.
Published Feb. 4, 2016
Want to know why you crave those cheese curds? According to a recent study from researchers at the University of Michigan, cheese triggers the same part of the brain as several hard drugs do.
Published Feb. 4, 2016
The Milwaukee Brewers are bringing back their postgame concert series with two performances set for the 2016 season: pop star Andy Grammer and country performer Kip Moore.
Published Feb. 2, 2016
By the time I landed in Park City, Utah Friday for the final days of the Sundance Film Festival, most of the party was dying down. However, the important parts - the movies - were very much still in action. Here are the best and worst of what I saw.
Published Jan. 29, 2016
As we speak, my bucket list is in the process of becoming one entry shorter. I am currently on a plane to Utah, about to attend my first ever Sundance Film Festival. And even though this year's festival is reaching its end, the buzz is still high.