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The Future, Rebooted 

Hollywood manages to improve a ’90s Stallone flick, but just barely

click to enlarge We’ll take Robocop any day.
  • We’ll take Robocop any day.

As I was leaving the press screening for Dredd 3D, which is a remake of the 1995 film Judge Dredd, which was an adaptation of the 1983 comic book, a fellow critic turned to me and uncertainly said/asked, “That wasn’t bad, right?”

Right. In fact, much better than expected. Certainly an improvement over that first Sly Stallone version. Like the original film, it’s set in an American future where the environment is ruined, there are too many people and too few cities, crime is rampant, and justice is served by the combo street cops/judges who are doling out prescribed punishments right in those streets.

But aside from a few dystopian sci-fi sensibilities, and some really cool gadgets, the film’s simple plot line might as well be taking place right now. It’s about a couple of law enforcers — Dredd (Karl Urban) is a notorious veteran judge; Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) is a rookie on her first assignment — who find themselves in seemingly inescapable peril, and must get out of it.

Every place is a bad place in Dredd 3D. The story happens in Mega-City One, which stretches halfway down the East Coast of the former United States, and is home to 800 million people. Within the city is Peach Trees, a huge apartment complex that has the “highest crime rate in the district.”

It’s here that the always-helmeted Dredd (we see only his nose, mouth and chin) and the blonde-headed, doe-eyed Anderson (helmets get in the way of her psychic powers) are sent to deal with a triple homicide.

An introductory chase scene, with Dredd on his hopped-up motorcycle, tearing through the streets after some drug-addled perps in a van, lets us know who we’re dealing with. He’s a by-the-book guy, regularly in touch with upper command via his wrist radio, staying cool and calm under all circumstances, practicing one-note delivery on every nugget of dialogue, doling out lethal punishment if it fits the crime.

Urban, who played Bones in the 2009 Star Trek reboot, takes on the part with a straight face (at least the little you can see of it). He doesn’t seem to be having as much fun as Stallone did (Stallone roared out the signature line, “I AM THE LAW!” while Urban just states it as fact), but he’s much more effective in the part, and is actually more believable, in a kind of Robocop way.

As the main villain, Lena Headey (Cersei from Game of Thrones) goes slightly over the edge with her drug czar-gang leader Ma-Ma, a physically scarred, emotionally ruined woman who can just as easily call for the violent deaths of our heroes as she can lay back and groove on the sparkling soap bubbles floating up from her bathtub.

The film features many threats of violence, and many more acts of it, and is generous in displays of big-time firepower and sounds of a pounding music score. There’s no real need for the 3D of the title except in a few instances where close-ups induce a strong feeling of claustrophobia. Alas, the script has too many “hip and funny” one-liners, none of which are needed. 

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