The great irony of DREDD 3D is that the narcotic driving the criminal element of the film is called Slo-Mo and itís trick is to make slow time down to one-percent of normal for the user. Ironic because DREDD, based on the comic strip by Carlos Ezquerra and John Wagner, does the same thing for the viewer. Though rife with shootouts and scenes of torture, this is a flick with a painfully dull edge that creeps along at a crushingly lackadaisical pace and an energy level somewhere just below the heartbeat of a hibernating dormouse.
The premise is a clichť dystopian future where too many people are crowded into towering slums notable for their rust, water stains, and the resilience of the residents to return to the food court after the latest massacre has been cleaned up by the maintenance staff. In this dank and dreary land, the only law comes from the men and women of the Justice Department, who patrol the city in nifty armor, niftier helmets, and even more nifty weapons that can do everything from stun to launch an incendiary burst. Called Judges, they are the police, judge, jury, and executioner when it comes to crime, dispensing a summary and on-the-spot death blow with the same sang-froid as a jail sentence. The most forbidding of all is Judge Dredd (Karl Urban), which is why he is assigned Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) the least likely of rookies for evaluation. Sheís a winsome blonde with low scores at the Academy, but a gift for reading minds. Together, they are about to step into the plot of the much superior film, THE RAID, which is to say they will be spending the bulk of the film in a locked-down, 200-floor tenement in which a crazed drug lord (Lena Headey) has directed the residents to hunt them down and make them dead.
There is a rhythm to DREDDís more bombastic sequences, leaving quiet time for the audience to ponder when Dredd will finally remove his helmet. Anderson eschews hers because it interferes with her psychic gift. Dreddís response is to point out that a bullet to her brain will, too. Itís as close to successful as the parody gets and so one must, I suppose, cling to it. Back to Dredd and his helmet, which, and this is a spoiler, he never does remove, giving rise to all sorts of speculation to fill the time between bombasts. Is it really the film wanting to remain true to its comic strip origins? Is there something about Urbanís head that doesnít work with the Kevlar-studded commando suit? It is too big, too small, the wrong shape? It looked just fine when he played Dr. McCoy in J.J. Abrams STAR TREK. Still, given that the character is played from the nose down with only his lips and chin to work with, so intrusive is the helmet, Urban does a fine job. The lips have a forbidding downturn whether still or saying something. The chin has an imposingly firm set to it, and the nose, as it coyly peeks from under the visor, has the properly imperious quality necessary for the part. The voice also gives pause to the listener, gravelly but with fine enunciation. Urbanís gait is also no-nonsense, but more robotic than menacing.
Thirlby quavers delicately to demonstrate her innate humanity, and to give her character some sort of arc to start from, unlike Urban, who is stuck with the one gravelly note. Itís Headey, though, who tears things up as an icy psychopath with clear career goals and no compunction about how she achieves them as swiftly and brutally as possible.
As if time werenít passing slowly enough for the audience, special effects show us the effect of Slo-Mo the drug on users. There is sparkle, there is a cool freeze-framing, which, to be honest, makes the victimís-eye view of being thrown off a very high balcony grotesquely fascinating. The first time. Maybe the second. Same with bullets plowing through a face and then a torso of some semi-innocent bystanders.
DREDD 3D is an improvement, to be sure, over the campy excesses of the Stallone incarnation, and yet, it is still all testosterone with no place to go.