A far cry from the 1995 groaner starring Sylvester Stallone and Rob Schneider, this splattery, better-than-it-has-any-right-to-be adaptation of John Wagner’s U.K. comic book 2000 AD stars the lower half of Karl Urban’s face as a monosyllabic lawman in a post-apocalyptic dystopia. (Um, is there any other kind?)
Mega-City One spans most of the Northeast corridor in an uninterrupted sprawl of 200-story high-rise housing projects. Crime runs so rampant that the meager police force has been empowered to act as judge, jury and executioner, even while only physically capable of responding to 6 percent of their calls. Urban’s Judge Dredd is the toughest of the bunch, a sneering justice machine who never once takes off his helmet for the entire running time.
Teamed with Olivia Thirlby’s psychic rookie, Dredd and his new partner quickly find themselves locked down in a towering slum run by the vicious MaMa, played by Lena Headley, channeling Sandra Bernhard on a very bad day. A cat-and-mouse game of audacious bloodletting ensues, displaying vast ingenuity when it comes to sundry ways of dismembering the human body.
Weirdly pedigreed for such a down-and- dirty B-picture, Dredd was scripted by novelist Alex Garland and shot by groundbreaking digital videographer Antony Dod Mantle. It’s a good deal wittier than expected from a movie that consists mostly of people getting shot in the face. (I was quite fond of the automated corpse-disposal units mopping up a mess while assuring folks that the food-court will re-open in six to eight minutes.) Urban’s performance is particularly droll, his eyes obscured by doofy-looking headgear, working strictly with a scowl and often hilariously rigid body language. He makes that Robocop reboot that’s in the works seem awfully unnecessary.
There’s a perverse integrity to Dredd ’s relentless nastiness. You’ll keep waiting for them to try and soften up the character, or maybe just stop blowing people’s heads off. No dice. Thirlby, doing a passable Milla Jovovich imitation, is on hand to supply the inevitable crisis of conscience, ever so slightly acknowledging that this is all just a queasy fascist police brutality empowerment fantasy. But as far as such things go, it’s kind of a hoot.