Policing dystopia — Walking the beat in a hellish future

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At least they kept Rob Schneider out of it.

While this Judge Dredd reboot shares the same source material as Sylvester Stallone's 1995 sci-fi action flop, director Pete Travis (Vantage Point, End Game) opts for a darker, more gruesome, yet equally bombastic take on fascistic cops and depraved robbers in a dystopic future. This Dredd is a better film, but that doesn't necessarily make it a good film.

The United States is an irradiated wasteland. Hundreds of millions of people are crammed into Mega City One, a megalopolis that covers nearly half the East Coast, from Boston to Washington, D.C. With so many people crammed into so small a space, attempts to maintain law and order are mostly ineffectual. Desperate for some kind of justice, the police have been granted the authority to act as judge, jury and executioner. Enter veteran cop Judge Dredd (Karl Urban), who is forced to take on a mind-reading cadet (Olivia Thirlby) as a partner. When a series of gang murders occur at a 200-story tower block, the two investigate. Soon, they are locked in by a vicious drug kingpin named Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), who has been dealing a new mind-altering narcotic called SLO-MO. Dredd and his rookie partner must fight to survive while filmmaker Travis gets to indulge in some spiffy slow-motion effects courtesy the criminals' preferred drug. Bloody mayhem ensues.

If the plot sounds familiar, maybe it's because you caught this summer's Indonesian actioner The Raid: Redemption. It and Dredd follow frighteningly similar plot lines, and both shoot-'em-ups owe Die Hard for their lock-down, knock-down conceit. Confining the setting to a single edifice generates a surprising mix of claustrophobic suspense and adrenalized action. Unfortunately, as scripted by Alex Garland (28 Days Later, Sunshine), the film sorely misses the source comic books' social satire.

While Travis knows how to confidently keep the cat-and-mouse firefights moving at a brisk pace (no one will accuse Dredd of being wordy), cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle (Slumdog Millionaire) gives everything a gritty gloss, and Urban does the best he can with a jaw-only performance (his helmet covers most of his head). Dredd is mostly a monotonous series of brutally violent encounters punctuated by hyper-slow 3-D effects. Audiences who like to see bullets rip through eyeballs and cheeks will undoubtedly be delighted. Those of us who feel queasy about violent cops wielding unlimited power will struggle to find something to cheer about.


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