Rather than being a poetic extension of the filmmaking process, slowing down the action in Dredd makes the film less exciting. It’s not necessary to dwell on every violent act. In the end, the editing and camerawork make a fetish out of something horrid.
Alex Garland’s screenplay follows a basic by-the-numbers formula. The restricted plot borrows heavily from the Indonesian film, The Raid: Redemption. In Mega City One, the environment resembles an “irradiated wasteland.” Those who cannot cope use a drug called “Slo-Mo,” which makes time pass at 1% normal speed. Notorious criminal Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) has exclusive control of this narcotic. Operating from a 200 storey high rise called Peach Trees, she dispenses violence through a multitude of nasty underlings. When three homicides are reported, Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) and rookie Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) are sent in to investigate.
Amped up with Paul Leonard Morgan’s sickeningly tedious and derivative music score that screams John Carpenter, Dredd manufactures scenes from a garbage dump of source material, namely graphic novels. The film feels like it was made by someone who loves 3D but doesn’t understand visual storytelling. Too often, dialogue rears its ugly head when telling the story without words or voice-over would produce a finer result.
Rapid-fire cutting by Mark Eckersley treats the audience like a dartboard. He wants to see how often we react or squirm in our seats at the next horrific action. (I just turn my head away when it gets too heavy.)
With this many explosions and endless outpourings of ammunition, does it leave any room for storytelling? Apparently not, because director Pete Travis and sound designer Glenn Freemantle seem preoccupied with excess. Their modus operandi involves sticking the audience in a corner and building up the tension to unbearable levels of fatigue.
Dredd doesn’t look or feel well-acted. Behind that impenetrable helmet, Urban doesn’t give a performance; he just turns up and says the lines. Next to Sylvester Stallone, he’s an emotionless brute. As for Thirlby, she has a unique character quirk --telepathic powers -- which remains undeveloped. She puts the trait to effective use but no background information seems forthcoming in terms of how she became that way. Headey could be too exotic to come across as a proper villain. She hardly becomes aggressive. Instead, she has others do her dirty work. As a result, she feels weak in extreme circumstances.
The climax to the picture recalls a similar moment in Alien3. Suffice to say, sharing company with the worst film ever made hardly seems like grounds to recommend the toneless shoot ’em up known as Dredd. My advice? Save your money and wait for Zero Dark Thirty.
(Released by Lionsgate and rated "R" for strong bloody violene, language, drug use, and some sexual content.)