Assuming a gruesome grimness far removed from Sylvester Stallone’s cartoony 1995 dud Judge Dredd, Pete Travis’s Dredd takes a bleak RoboCop-ish approach to its source material. At the center of its mayhem is the titular hero, a no-nonsense futuristic lawman who’s tasked with being judge, jury, and executioner in a crime-ridden post-apocalyptic metropolis known as Mega City One and who’s defined by mechanical movements, rational logic, and a perpetual Eastwood-by-way-of-Batman snarl. Too bad that the satire of Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 sci-fi gem isn’t also mimicked by this lean, mean movie, but that’s no fatal flaw given how it ably assumes a tawdry, nasty verve.
Investigating a triple homicide at the high-rise tenement building Peach Trees, Dredd (Karl Urban) and psychic rookie Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) find themselves in dire straits after they apprehend their target, Kay (Wood Harris), and, while transporting him for interrogation, are locked in the facility by the building’s drug kingpin, Ma-Ma (Lean Headey), who doesn’t want Kay talking. What follows is straight out of The Raid: Redemption (minus the martial arts), as Ma-Ma orders the building’s criminal throngs to murder Dredd and Anderson, leading to a nonstop fight for survival that drives the two heroes upward 200 floors toward an eventual showdown with their Queen Bee-ish adversary.
Travis shoots this carnage with a graphicness that’s in keeping with the film’s general ultra-violent tone, epitomized by sequences in which users of Ma-Ma’s narcotic Slo-Mo—which, per its name, decelerates the brain’s function to one percent of its normal speed—are shredded and exploded by bullets and grenades in super-slow-motion that recalls the signature style of Zack Snyder, except with more expressionistic use of blooming colors and twinkling lights. Such exaggerated aesthetics would be more egregious if they weren’t kept to a relative minimum, and they’re matched by the extreme bleakness of Dredd gunning down adversaries without compunction and delivering cocky one-liners like a Dirty Harry caricature.
The helmeted Dredd’s cold attitude is colored by fascistic sadism (he likes to choke and beat suspects, as well as give them suitably brutal sentences), and offset by Anderson, at least until she learns that her compassionate streak can happily coexist with a more homicidal-hardass attitude toward her work. It’s action that doesn’t reinvent the wheel. However, courtesy of Urban’s amusingly gruff performance, a story that places a premium on delivering its disreputable sex-and-violence goods with a minimum of fuss or pretension, and gimmicky 3D that amplifies its over-the-top atmosphere, Dredd earns its B-movie badge.