Surpassing the low bar of being better than 1995's soullessly glossy "Judge Dredd," starring Sylvester Stallone, this second adaptation of the long-running British comic-book feature is, instead, soullessly gritty. Set in a science-fiction dystopia of a grossly overcrowded future with anachronistically 2012-looking cars and minivans, "Dredd" proves a surprisingly unimaginative cops vs. drug lord story, complete with the weathered veteran forced to take a rookie under his wing.
That veteran is Judge Dredd (Karl Urban), one of a corps of police officer-judge-jury-executioners in Mega-City One, a walled metropolis of 800 million stretching from Boston to Washington, D.C. No sooner is he assigned newbie Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) -- a washout the brass nonetheless wants to field-test, since she's a powerful mutant psychic -- than the two are called to the 200-story vertical slum Peach Trees, where three men have been thrown to their deaths. Investigating, they arrest Kay (Wood Harris), a suspect in the murders.
Kay, however, is a lieutenant of a sociopathic drug kingpin, or, perhaps, "queenpin": Madeline Madrigal, aka Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), whose narcotic Slo-Mo markedly slows a user's perception of time. Not wanting Kay to crack under questioning, she has her computer expert (Domhnall Gleeson) close the blast doors that protect the building in case of war. With the judges and their captive trapped in the maze, guns are soon blazing and perps and bystanders killed by the dozens, along with story logic and plot sense. At least the film's technical aspects, including its 3-D, are sterling.
The film's one believably human scene involves Anderson meeting the family of a murderous gang member she's killed. Otherwise, it's all tough-guy talk and humorless cynicism -- which is odd since the comics feature, running since 1977 in the weekly anthology "2000 AD," is largely a satire of this kind of story, with deliberately over-the-top attitudes that anticipated the satirical violence and societal corporatization of "RoboCop" (1987). This by-the-numbers movie, however, seems the product of RoboFilmmakers.
PLOT A combination cop-judge-jury-executioner and his rookie partner battle a drug lord in a dystopian future.
CAST Karl Urban,
PLAYING AT Area theaters
BOTTOM LINE Ultraviolent British satirical comic is played straight and unimaginatively.