If Dick Cheney was a Hollywood screenwriter who decided one day to write a loose cross between Training Day and Robocop 2, the result would probably look an awful lot like Dredd.  The second film based on the famous British comic book character (1995’s Judge Dredd was the first), it more than lives up to its title.  And no, that’s not a good thing.

In the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust, 800 million people now live in a dramatically changed world.  Unemployment rates have skyrocketed.  Crime is ridiculously high.  (12 unlawful acts are committed in a single minute, more than 10000 in a single day.)  There are no cops.  And there is no court system.  Instead, we get extremely strict judges, roving law enforcement agents who 1) decide on the spot if someone is guilty and then 2) instantly determine their sentence.  Leniency and fairness are no longer applicable.  And you can forget about getting probation or community service for even the slightest violation.

There’s also little accountability.  Despite wearing badges with their last names on them, every judge wears a silly, Boba Fett-style motorcycle helmet that conceals half their face.  Interrogations can easily turn into renditions.  “Negotiations” with perps often means choosing between a life sentence without parole or immediate execution, all without a trial.  No one ever talks about making an appeal.  (There are no lawyers any more.)  And there’s no ACLU to help you overturn an unfair sentence.  It’s Dick Cheney’s wet dream come true.

Replacing Sylvester Stallone in the title role from the earlier film is the gravelly-voiced Karl Urban, a cold, detached lawman who you never want to cross or even support, for that matter.  (He’s way too trigger-happy.)  If he existed in the real world, Cheney would’ve recruited him for The War On Terror.  Like the former Vice President, he doesn’t believe in mercy or the Constitution.  Sounding like a modern-day Clint Eastwood, Dredd lives a permanently joyless existence fighting a war he and his fellow judges can’t possibly win.  Despite focusing much of his attention on homicides, he’s also gunning for machine-gun wielding drug dealers who pretty much run Mega City One.

The biggest of them all is Ma-Ma (Lena Headey from Game Of Thrones), a former prostitute with a bad facial scar who rose to power in the underworld by offing her violent pimp, stealing his business and eliminating much of her competition.  Somewhere in the Peach Trees building (a 200-floor shopping mall/apartment complex for the poor) is a secret laboratory where her employees continuously cook up endless batches of Slo-Mo, a drug so potent you temporarily feel as if you’re living your life literally in slow motion.  Considering the misery that oozes out of every pore of Mega City One, it’s not much of an escape.  (Then again, maybe I undervalue the concept of chemical numbness.)

Nevertheless, Slo-Mo is quite popular with the masses which means law enforcement does not approve.  Yes, the futile drug war refuses to die even in a futuristic comic book movie.

Helping Dredd to fight it is Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), a mutant whose parents died of cancer from the nuclear holocaust.  Despite barely missing her opportunity to become a judge, this young woman who can read minds gets another chance to prove her mettle by making snap judgments with the more experienced Dredd out in the field.  It’s up to him whether she passes or fails this big test.

After apprehending one of Ma-Ma’s dealers (Wood Harris) with the intention of interrogating him back at The Hall Of Justice (an ironic name if there ever was one), Anderson and Dredd unfortunately find themselves trapped in Peach Trees where they find him.  Thanks to the quick thinking of her reluctant techie (Domhnall Gleeson), a copper wire obsessive who had his eyes gouged out by his new boss and replaced with electronic substitutes, Ma-Ma is able to lock down the building so no one can escape.  Deeply worried that Kay (the Harris character) will sing like a canary while being tortured, the drug lord gets on the P.A. system urging anyone with the means to take out A & D to go ahead and do it.  Everybody else better stay out of the way, especially those who try to protect them.  Otherwise, you’re dead.

For a film with such an interesting opening (the narrating Urban may be blatantly imitating Dirty Harry in more ways than one thoughout but considering the dark nature of his character, it nonetheless works), how disheartening it is to see it not followed up with a strong, surprising story.  Put simply, there’s little to no suspense as to how all of this will eventually turn out.

Also disappointing are the lacklustre action scenes which are heavy on gore and light on reinvention.  After The Matrix Trilogy, Dredd’s straightforward machine gun fights just feel so ordinary.  They’re unspectacularly gruesome.

And there isn’t much in the way of savage political commentary here, either.  Right from the start, we realize that the citizens of this world live under constant surveillance (spy drones are not uncommon) where the only true resistance to this authoritarian state comes not from rebellious freedom fighters with noble intentions of reform but from ruthless, money grubbing drug dealers who probably wouldn’t exist were it not for the prohibition of their popular product.  And just like in the real-life drug war, law enforcement has been corrupted by its cancerous influence making the whole venture a complete waste of time and resources.

The closest this movie comes to questioning this brave new world is in the form of the Anderson character.  After reluctantly pulling the trigger on a bloodied, would-be bounty hunter, she accidentally encounters his widow in their apartment.  At one point, she suddenly spots a framed photo of the two of them (the couple have a young baby, as well) and for a brief moment feels terrible guilt.  But that’s quickly forgotten once she, Dredd and Kay, their handcuffed drug dealing perp, are on the move again to avoid being assassinated.  Later, in the hope of redeeming herself, she refuses to execute someone she believes is a victim of the drug lord’s cruelty, not a willing accomplice, which temporarily perturbs her more hardened partner.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not against bleak, futuristic thrillers in general.  Just the unchallenging ones that endorse Dick Cheney’s worldview.

Like the disappointing Dredd.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, September 3, 2013
12:27 a.m.

Published in: on September 3, 2013 at 12:27 am  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] The Purge, Spice World, Earth, Beetlejuice, Breaking Dawn – Part Two, Texas Chainsaw, Sinister, Dredd, Flashdance, Zombieland, American Wedding and Inglourious Basterds appeared alongside previously […]

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