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Dredd is a comic-book adaptation set in a future in which the occupation of "judge" also includes "jury" and "executioner" in the job description.

This is OK with Judge Dredd (Karl Urban), a hard-nosed law officer who metes out hard justice in the teeming post-apocalyptic burg of Mega City One. Dredd is less than thrilled when he is assigned to evaluate promising rookie judge Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), a psychic capable of reading minds.

She and Dredd are assigned to investigate a triple homicide in a 200-storey slum complex ruled by a scarred narcotics queen called Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), who has cornered the Mega-market on a drug that seems to slow down time, called Slo-mo.

Dredd and Cassandra blithely enter the belly of the urban beast to make arrests. Ma-Ma, chagrined by the intrusion, seals off the block and sets her multiple minions to kill the judges.

Visually, Dredd is richly rewarding, whether capturing the grunge of epic-scale urban blight, or in its depictions of the effects of Slo-mo.

There is some comic payoff, too, thanks largely to Urban. Last seen as the loquacious Dr. McCoy in Star Trek, Urban strips the hero figure of almost all human qualities, save for slow-burning rage. It's a hilariously terse portrayal of a fascist fantasy figure.

With its dystopian future, its ultra-violence and its dark humour, Dredd sometimes succeeds in replicating the tone of Paul Verhoeven's great 1987 action-satire RoboCop. But there is no actual fixed target for the jet-black humour, at least not in the way Verhoeven's film laser-sighted the unholy alliance between the justice system and corporate interests.

Like its two heroes, cut off from the rest of the world, Dredd's satire has no place to go. 2 1/2 stars



This stop-motion animated feature is based on a live-action short director Tim Burton made as an upstart young director, and its perverse premise sees Burton in his Gothic comfort zone: Children playing with dead things.

Victor is a brilliant loner kid in his suburban neighbourhood, making monster movies starring his dog Sparky and a cast of inanimate action figures. Alas, a car accident befalls the beloved dog.

So when a science teacher demonstrates how electricity can cause the muscles of a dead frog to move (a delightfully creepy scene), Victor is inspired to hook up his dead dog up to a lightning bolt and revive Sparky with the spark of life.

Victor tries to keep his dog's existence a secret from his parents (voiced by Catherine O'Hara and Martin Short), but soon his schoolmates want to get in on the action.

Soon, the town of New Holland is being befouled by a horde of revived mutant pets on a rampage.

The movie offers a cogent satiric riff on the anti-intellectual zeitgeist. And visually, it's delightful, with Burton daring to film in black and white -- albeit 3D black and white -- in tribute to the beautiful old horror movies that inspired it.

Burton has trod this ground too frequently as creative producer of stop-motion films such as The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Corpse Bride. Compared to the more innovative kiddie-horror offering ParaNorman, Frankenweenie feels ... less fresh.

But as with its titular dead pup, just because it's not fresh doesn't mean it's not, in its way, lovable. 3 1/2 stars


Hit & Run

For better or worse, filmmakers are often influenced by the films they saw at an impressionable age. Judging from Hit & Run, actor-turned-writer-director Dax Shepard was perhaps too much impressed with Smokey and the Bandit.

This movie has a lot more semi-tasteless comedy, but the car chase/romance dynamics are roughly the same. Shepard plays Charlie Bronson, a man trapped in a small town under the auspices of the Witness Protection Program. On the plus side, he has met the love of his life, Annie (Kristen Bell), a teacher at the local community college.

Unfortunately, Annie has just booked a job interview with a more prestigious college in Los Angeles, which is the turf of the hot-headed bank robber (a dreadlocked Bradley Cooper) Charlie testified against four years earlier.

But Charlie is a dutiful boyfriend and he insists on escorting his lady love to L.A. in a supercharged, parade float-sized '67 Cadillac.

All the fun being had behind the cameras occasionally translates to the material in front of the cameras. Shepard actually creates a lively relationship for himself and Bell. His character comes from the kind of background where the use of fists is the norm and Annie's specialty is non-violent conflict resolution, a problematic field for a guy who, given an opportunity to choose a new name, picks "Charles Bronson."

But the movie fails to acquire an organic life of its own. Shepard is shooting for a caustic, Quentin Tarantino-esque dialogue that doesn't integrate into a plot that might have appealed to Burt Reynolds back in the '70s. 2 1/2 stars


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 10, 2013 C4

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