Which Dredd Should You Dread?

No one’s ever claimed they’re great, but there’s a lot of love for the 80s and 90s action movies starring Schwarzeneggar, Van Damme, Lundgren, Seagal, et al. How else can you explain the “popularity” of The Expendables? However, there is one of them that ranks pretty low on the totem pole: Judge Dredd (1995) with Sylvester Stallone. You don’t often find it among anyone’s list of favorites.

As I’m often compelled to do when an updated version of a movie is released, I re-watch the original. Though not technically a “remake”, I have no issue writing about Dredd (2012) and its predecessor in this column. The only issue I have is the accumulated amount of time taken from my life that I’ll never get back! What’s funny is that Judge Dredd is not quite as awful as I remember, yet Dredd is surprisingly worse than its pre-release hype (and Rotten Tomatoes rating) would suggest.

With Judge Dredd, you have to start with Stallone, and he’s particularly ridiculous here. I can’t even spell the word “law” the way he pronounces it in his catchphrase, “I am the law”. It’s something like “lerwh”, and it’s perhaps the pinnacle of bad action movie one-liners. I know Stallone wasn’t intentionally meant to be comical, though, because writers Michael De Luca and William Wisher saddle him with a wacky sidekick, Rob Schneider; you know, to ease the tension.

Compared to Schneider, Stallone is a master thespian. I can’t think of a greater black hole sucking the entertainment out of a movie than Schneider, unless it was Chris Tucker in The Fifth Element… or anything else, for that matter. He is excruciating. And while I’m not familiar with the comic book on which Judge Dredd is based, I have a pretty good feeling it didn’t involve a character like Schneider’s.
That’s pretty much what I remembered about Judge Dredd before I watched it again. What I didn’t remember is that there is a decent story and director Danny Cannon keeps things moving along at a brisk pace. The movie even looks a lot better than a comparable 90s action sci-fi blockbuster that I recently re-watched, Schwarzeneggar’s Total Recall.

The new version, Dredd, could use a little of the original’s plot. It’s the second movie I’ve seen this week with a great set-up, but subsequently offering nothing else than our hero simply getting from point A to point B before its 90-minute running time expires. The other movie was Resident Evil: Retribution, and while I require just a little more story with my action, it seems that these movies may in fact be closer to the experience of playing a video game than watching a movie.

Karl Urban is Judge Dredd here, but it may as well have been anyone under a helmet/mask that is never removed and exposes his face only from the bottom of his nose down. If I didn’t know it, I would have guessed it was Jason Statham playing Dredd. Remember, it is the eyes that are the window to the soul, and while I don’t think seeing his entire face would have elevated his acting, it would have made him more sympathetic and human.

Dredd was also hyped as being great in 3D. If that means constantly showing a piece of the environment in the corner of the screen up-close and out of focus, then yes, it is a masterpiece. The technology is more effective in scenes reflecting the effects of the SLO-MO drug that is plaguing the post-apocalyptic megacity. Unfortunately, these scenes are literally filmed in slow motion and stop being beautiful to watch early on, quickly wearing out their welcome.

I have a feeling there will be an audience for Urban-Dredd, even though it was not in attendance with me at the opening night showing where I saw it. And it’s not bad purely for the action. It’s just not my kind of pessimistic-futuristic- screaming-hard-rock-soundtrack kind of movie. As for Stallone-Judge Dredd, I have a feeling there will be some curiosity about revisiting it. Just remember what curiosity did to the cat.

2.3Overall Score
Judge Dredd (1995)
Dredd 3D (2005)
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