Dredd (2012) – Pete Travis (Dir.), Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey
There come moments in a boy’s life. Moments when he, no matter how pretentious, high-brow, self-important or, like a throat, ‘deep’ he thinks he is, there comes a calling. We know not from whence it comes, perhaps carried on the breeze of omnipresent testosterone flowing downwind of Chuck Norris, perhaps the mental eddies of a pyroclastic id finally breaking free of societal constraints and spreading through the nexus of the human imagination and reducing members of the male gender to barbarous, penile primates. Perhaps it’s simply ‘that time of the month’. Well, on a Thursday night, with all of my inaptly titled ‘bros’ previously engaged, I had a hunger. It is the hunger of the child who used to sit on the stairs and watch my parents watching Terminator 2: Judgement Day. It is the ephemeral calling of a deeply-seeded genetic warrior-culture long since dampened and whittled down to domestic complacency. And so, lost and energized by Ares, I smuggled a bottle of Maker’s Mark into the theater and joined four other random-ass strangers/brave compatriots in a viewing of Dredd. Within ten minutes, I realized something incredible, earth-shattering, world-spearing, Britney-Spears-in-2006-ing.
Being a boy is really, really, really dumb.
I’m not sure if any of you remember, but Mr. Sly Stallone inflicted a movie upon the world that was Judge Dredd back in the mid-nineties. Now, of course, at the time it had seemed like a sure buck. We had a star, no matter the extent of his genetic facial malefaction, a hot girl, the knight from The Seventh Seal, a villain played by an actor with an absurdly foreign name (seriously, who calls their kid Armand? Fraiser fucking Crane?), a well-known comic book series and, of course the most bankable element of all, Rob “Oh God I Just Remembered He Existed” Schneider. It was a delicious, hot, whorish mess of future-y stuff and explosions and plot twists and growling and Sylvester Stallone attempting English again after miserably failing in the Rocky series. And it was PG-13. This anti-hero of the comic-verse that was famous for ripping out enough criminal entrails to construct an entire strings section of a philharmonic (nobody ever really went for my 100% human flesh orchestra. Don’t know why… Racism, probably). Stallone’s version was a naughty as a 3rd grader’s joke book and about as compelling as one too. Still, seeing Max Von Sydow continuing to act in horrible sic-fi movies is a dish of schadenfraude that I can never pass up. It’s depressing, yet oddly delicious. Like Ben & Jerry’s entire business model!
Let’s return to the present. We have Mr. Travis and his new rendition of the Dredd legend. I’m not entirely sure what occurred during the signing of the deal, but when he pitched his concept of a Dredd grittier and meatier than an Arkansas breakfast, the executives seemed to have said “PERFECT! Let’s do it! Except…you get no budget and it has to be in 3D”. Thus, Dredd 3D was born. I was lucky enough to wait until all of the 3D screens were occupied by Adam Sandler’s recent cinematic equivalent of a creampie so that I didn’t have to endure 90 minutes of bullets careening towards my Maker’s Marked face. This thing is lean, mean and…well, it’s cheap. Really, really cheap. Once again, we are treated to a distant future that looks oddly similar to Detroit where clothing is pretty much the same, skateboards are the same, cars are the same and…well…everything except a few monstrous structures is completely unchanged. Is this because Travis is commenting on how we, as a society, are slowing our progress to a Godot-esque crawl with our dependence on technology and our lack of true innovation…or that he didn’t have enough money to hire a real art director? I’ll leave it to you to decide.
What’s the story? Okay, so there’s this Judge. His name is Dredd. He murders people. Like…a LOT of people for the law. He has to take a rookie out on her final evaluation, the hauntingly, obsessively elfish Olivia Thirlby (who, for some reason, has psychic powers. Whatever). Well, they take in the wrong black dude and suddenly Cersei from HBO’s award-winning adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones (bow down, you weaklings, under the might of the MARTIN) decides that she wants ‘all y’all mutherfuckers dead’. What ensues is shooting, murdering, more shooting, some explosions, slow motion and even more shooting. That’s it. It’s 90 minutes of killing. And that’s it. No wit. No charm. No pathos. No pace variation. Nothing but the truest form of expression: death. I haven’t witnessed a film with shallower intentions since Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj. There is no pretense of character, arc, theme or challenge. Cersei wants them dead. They don’t want to be dead. LET THE GAMES BEGIN.
Here I come to a crossroads. There is an Andrew, smart, witty, generally engaging and a dawg with the ladies, a veritable James Bond of such suavity, he could convince Queen Elizabeth to play a game of ‘Catch the Sausage’, who would view such primal and basal material as entirely lacking in point and time-worthiness. And then there’s the Andrew who plays video games, lives in his mother’s basement, giggles with glee as Ash replaces his hand with a chainsaw and watched the entirety of Sucker Punch without vomiting or grievous bodily harm (it took more willpower than you could ever imagine). Sometimes the id loves to play. Sometimes it’s delightful to see drug-chuffing perps gunned down with absurdly over-compensating artillery. I thought this was the Andrew in attendance of that film last night. I was sorely mistaken.
Karl Urban is fine. It sounded as though his dialect coach had made a morning blended vat of concrete, Cuban cigars, the worst whiskey in the world, burning rubber tires and Phyllis Diller to drop his vocal cords into a spectrum of such gravel-ness that even my driveway is telling him to ‘dial it back a notch’. He never gets to take off his helmet so when he gets into a fight with another masked Judge (Spoilers…I guess) the pair of so indiscernible you just have to wait until the end and assume the dead one skewered on his own windpipe probably isn’t the hero. Also, we have the lovely Lena Headey looking as though she went tet-a-tet with a weedwacker and lost. She made Drew Barrymore’s teenage years look like Orphan Annie’s. Either Ms. Headey, after spending her finer moments in Westeros all year, was simply too tired to offer a performance of any perceivable worth or her acting is simply too subtle for this bull-ball-testosterone-injected mess of a movie. Finally, we have the exquisitely attractive miss Thirlby who, somehow in a future where everyone apparently applies a thick layer of biological waste to their skin every morning (‘This is Obama’s America!’), is as pristine as decorative knob on polishing day (tee hee. Double entendre!). The effect is so unnerving in this grime-tastic universe Travis has constructed that it’s almost as though someone stole a prop head from the Lord of the Rings and affixed it to some Judge armor. She floats from scene to scene, a removed beacon of beauty and brilliance, never once integrating into the grander aesthetic. She is barely even objectified! We get a total of .3 seconds of some thug’s fantasy and a whole lot of unflattering kevlar. It’s as though someone cast the fucking Keebler elf in The Expendables. A really, really pretty Keebler elf that was in Juno. It’s that jarring.
I tried. Guys, I really did. I waited to see what entertainingly brutal ends Dredd would dole out like popsicles from an ice cream truck (note to self: sitcom spin-off idea). I witnessed the dude’s head ignite, the bodies exploding into a shower of crimson carnage after falling 200 stories and an adam’s apple crushed into a man’s spine. I watched and I ‘meh-ed’. Am I so desensitized that when the guy’s hand exploded all I could muster was a, ‘yep, saw that coming’. This film, objectively, was one of the most violent movies I’ve seen in…well, months. Yet there was no creativity, nothing I hadn’t seen before. Granted, the scenes of narcotic-induced slow motion was anatomically fascinating, seeing exit wounds blossom in flowers of gore and Mama’s vertical end had a kind of violent poetry to it…but that was it. Otherwise, it was simply scene after scene after scene of Dredd murdering people. Not cleverly. He just shoots them. He kills so many goddamn people it’s absurd. Legions upon legions. AND I WAS BORED. What the fuck happened to me? Is this the new colosseum? I mean, it made sense for him to murder all those druggies within the context of the film and, to his credit, he does it extremely efficiently. Am I not entertained? WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME? Have the Saw films gone to my head? Now, does a character’s death have to be more elaborate than a fucking Rude Goldberg machine? Will I suddenly march over to Mufasa in The Lion King and say “Sorry dude, a stampede of wildebeests won’t cut it. What happens if they’re carnivorous and begin eating you and THEN they drag you five miles in a victory lap, all the while peeing on your corpse? I think that would be much more affecting. STOP CRYING SIMBA, I’M TALKING TO YOUR CORPSE OF A FATHER.”
It would seem as I have ‘aged’ and ‘matured’ and become ‘less of a shit-head’, my love of raucous and explosive bouts of boyish id has waned. Now, as I’m confronted with video games where disembowelment, dismemberment and debasement of functional organs are not only commonplace but greatly encouraged as well as innards-soaked epics of glorious gore, I open that cookie jar of my youth and reach in, ready to enjoy myself that sweet sugary nectar that is indulgence incarnate. But it doesn’t taste so great. I find myself asking, “But…but why? Where is the character? The point?” I mean, I still love the shit out of Die Hard, Indiana Jones and Inglorious Basterds. They’re dumb action right? WRONG. They have likable protagonists, grander themes, plots snakier than Madeusa’s beautician. Dredd has none of that. Its final attempt at holding a place in my memory is to eviscerate victims in increasingly hilarious fashions over its thankfully truncated runtime. Otherwise…what’s the point? Why are we watching in the first place? Is it even worth it anymore? Oh no…Have I been infected by ennui? Has my film-watching self become French? What has become of my snarky British heritage? Has it been inevitably tinged with peppered sauce of sarcasm? The soft cheese of pretension? The Chateau Lafite of wearing turtlenecks? NO! It cannot be! I can feel my awesomeness melting away and replaced by the croissants of international judgement! Nooooooooooo! Please! Somebody save me!