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 protĂ©gĂ© 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 May 24, 2016
A UWM graduation video featuring new grads dancing around Milwaukee to Justin Timberlake's "Can't Stop The Feeling" has racked up a ton of views - one of which must've been JT himself, as he took to Twitter to congratulate the new graduates.
Published May 22, 2016
According to Greg Mclean, "The Darkness" comes from a true story passed along to him first-hand. Judging by the results, maybe someone was just recalling the plot of "Poltergeist" to him. Or an infinite number of scarier haunted house tales from before.
Published May 18, 2016
Milwaukee native Bay Dariz's plan was to become a star musician, then turn into a movie mogul. The stage star part didn't quite happen, but no bother; he's already jumped to movie producer status with his feature film debut "Welcome to Happiness."
Published May 18, 2016
Save for a visit from a street-corner preacher, a trip to the bus stop rarely qualifies as a religious experience. However, those taking the bus to or from the Cathedral Square stop on the corner of Wells and Jackson might sense a little extra spirit.
Published May 17, 2016
While it was called "a dialogue," Tuesday's hour-long conversation between State Rep. Dale Kooyenga and MTEA executive director Lauren Baker, hosted by Marquette University's Eckstein Hall, sure resembled a debate - an often politely testy one.
Published May 16, 2016
How does Harry Connick Jr. kick back and relax the morning after a Saturday night show at the Riverside Theater? Apparently he cures his custard craving, as he tweeted out that he stopped by Leon's Frozen Custard for a sweet treat - and then some.
Published May 12, 2016
In between chats about her new movie "Money Monster," Jodie Foster dropped quite a bombshell last night on "Conan": The two-time Oscar winner and L.A. native is a Packer fan.
Published May 11, 2016
Before his Riverside show tonight, OnMilwaukee chatted with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson about the state of science, his thoughts on movies - including "Batman v Superman" - and why he may quit tweeting about them altogether.
Published May 10, 2016
May 4 would've marked the 100th birthday of urbanist Jane Jacobs. The Rotary Club paid tribute to the author at a luncheon by bringing former mayor John Norquist to chat about her work and ideas - and, of course, that new arena going into the space he once helped open up.
Published May 9, 2016
Businessman and star of CNBC's "The Profit" Marcus Lemonis has obviously gone places since his time at Marquette. But today, he's returned to the Cream City -- and he's apparently bringing some cameras with him.