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Movie review

Judge stays true to comic books

‘Dredd 3D’

Good news, Judge Dredd fans. Pete Travis’ savage interpretation of John Wagner’s futuristic law enforcer adheres to the character’s grim graphic-novel roots and proves far superior to the corny misfire attempted by Sylvester Stallone back in 1995.

This, finally, is the Dredd movie comic book readers have been anticipating.

Dreadful news, Dredd fans. If you also caught Gareth Evans’ like-minded Indonesian thriller “The Raid: Redemption” this year, then “Dredd 3D” will strike you as derivative. Through no fault of Travis and his crew, the two movies follow near-identical blueprints (even though each filmed around the same time in separate locations).

Solemn Karl Urban (Bones in J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” reboot) dons the trademark helmet and motorcycle boots of Dredd, a ruthless judge presiding over the decaying, post-apocalyptic metropolis of Mega-City One. Two events complicate Dredd’s unremitting mission to clean up his streets. First, he’s saddled with a rookie partner (Olivia Thirlby) who’s bound to slow him down. Second, the duo is assigned to investigate an incident at Peach Trees, a towering apartment complex run by crazed drug dealer Ma-Ma (Lena Headey).

Ma-Ma manufactures and peddles SLO-MO, an illegal substance that does exactly what you’d imagine to an abuser’s brain. The drug’s chemical effect prompts Travis to employ slow-motion visual technology and exhilarating bullet-time effects in his multiple action sequences, which kick into graphic high gear once Dredd starts mowing down the opposition.

And here’s where the comparisons to “The Raid” become unavoidable. After Travis establishes Dredd as a take-no-prisoners law enforcer, the movie’s goal is to have our hero march from the ground floor of Peach Trees to Ma-Ma’s penthouse, eliminating waves of well-armed criminals. Unlike “The Raid,” which dispensed of its antagonists through gracefully choreographed combat dances, “Dredd 3D” opts for satisfyingly bone-crunching brutality.

There’s plenty for genre fans to appreciate in “Dredd.” It’s faithful to the British comic, which artist Carlos Ezquerra illustrated with an unnerving blend of grit, blood and sleaze. Headey is ridiculously good as the deranged Ma-Ma, playing the material so seriously that “Dredd” avoids the camp that swallowed Stallone’s take on the material. Thirlby’s a vast improvement over Rob Schneider from Stallone’s “Judge Dredd.” And Urban leaves Dredd’s mask on the entire time, which die-hard fans of the character will tell you is a must.

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