OK, here's a promise: No jokes or puns based on the title of Dredd 3D. Fish in a barrel and all that.
Not that there's much that's memorable about Pete Travis' reboot of a moribund movie franchise based on what is, by now, sort of a classic comic book. Sylvester Stallone used it as a vehicle a couple of face-lifts ago -- and the fact that there hasn't been a Judge Dredd movie since then probably speaks for itself.
Which is more than the movie does. Set in a post-apocalyptic future where the cops are now also judge, jury and executioner, this high-concept action film blends bits of Attack the Block, Robocop, District B13 and this summer's The Raid: Redemption in its template. When you've got lawmen dodging a high-rise full of armed criminals who want them dead, well, how much dialogue do you really need?
Judge Dredd (Karl Urban, whose full face we never see) is a futuristic lawman, assigned the training of a rookie judge, Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), who has a secret power: telepathy. So she can read the minds of criminals and doesn't need to interrogate them. On the other hand, it means she doesn't wear a helmet. Look ma, no hands.
They get called to the Peach Trees, a mammoth high-rise that houses 75,000 people -- and which is undergoing a hostile takeover by a gang belonging to a former prostitute called Ma-Ma (Lena Headey). She's behind the manufacture of a new narcotic called Slo-Mo, and has her factory within the Peach Trees. She's working her way, floor by floor, through the building, eliminating rival gangs with a hope of expanding her drug-trade domination to other mega-highrises.
When she kills three rivals and dumps the bodies into the building's courtyard from, oh, 100 stories up, Dredd and Anderson respond to the distress call and capture -- rather than kill -- one of Ma-Ma's top assistants. So Ma-Ma locks down the high-rise in her attempt to eliminate both the captured flunky and Judge Dredd. Now he and his trainee have to fight their way out.
It's as straightforward as that -- without much more imagination. Most of the action consists of a series of shoot-outs. Indeed, why make it a movie at all? This is a first-person-shooter videogame buffed up to resemble a motion picture. Bang -- you're dead. So is this movie.
Urban talks in that same bass-note growl favored by masked crimefighters in the movies; think of it as early Michael Keaton by way of Christian Bale. Being forced to wear a helmet that covers everything but his mouth doesn't do much to enhance his performance. Headey, complete with elaborate facial scars and matching sneer, isn't nearly as frightening here as she is weekly on Game of Thrones. As for the 3D, it appears to be a mistake. Despite the fact that it was shot in 3D, the film looks like a bad case of retro-fitting a completed movie with what appear to be View-Master effects.
Dredd is paint-by-numbers action, all formula and no inspiration. There are many better ways to spend your time.
Find more reviews, interviews and commentary on my website.
Follow Marshall Fine on Twitter: www.twitter.com/hollywoodnfine