The irony kills me. Here we have WWE Films releasing a feature whose message is that violence for entertainment is bad. Since the filmmakers lead us along the whole time with a straight face, how else are we supposed to react? The only reaction you’ll feel is the constant urge to laugh during The Condemned, a film so self-serious and simultaneously absurd that you almost have to wonder if it was shot like the reality TV it is mocking: on-the-fly.
Madman producer Ian Breckel (Mammone) is preparing to launch his most ambitious project yet: a live webcast of ten death row inmates duking it out to the death on a remote island. The last one standing gets his or her freedom (your guess is as good as mine as to how this would be arranged). For $50 – about the cost of going to the movies – users around the world can log on and enjoy the rape and death. Breckel has purposefully chosen “contestants” from every corner of the Earth in the hopes of attracting Super Bowl-like numbers of viewers. The main players are Jack Conrad (Austin), an American wrongfully imprisoned in El Salvador who just wants to get home to his family, and Ewan McStarley (Jones), a vicious rapist and murderer from Europe.
The first problem here is that none of the inmates, with the exception of McStarley and his ally, Saiga (Masa Yamaguchi), feel like horrible people. We’re given brief rap sheets on all of them, but the vast majority of seem like victims of injustice. The plight of husband and wife Paco (Manu Bennett) and Rosa (Dasi Ruz), which is very uncomfortable and laborious, feels like it’s used solely as a tool to keep our eyes on the screen. This is the kind of movie where the number of viewers skyrockets when something big happens; as if everyone knew to log on at that exact moment.
Faring worse are the numerous attempts at social commentary via crass stereotypes. Perhaps the filmmakers are correct in that things may eventually go too far (reality death TV could be the logical follow-up to people eating cow’s intestines for entertainment), but one can’t escape the fact that these shows thrive on ever person’s built-in sense of morbid curiosity. It’s that same curiosity that is being used to sell this movie – from WWE Films nonetheless.
So, the action must save it, right? Not so much. While there are fights a-plenty, all of it is shot with a shaky, incomprehensible camera by director Scott Wiper. If you want to see blurry clothes you’ll eat it up. The good news is we get a little of what we signed up for in the first place: ludicrous action. I did learn that Steve Austin can throw a cell phone-sized piece of C4 into a helicopter from a quarter mile away. Get him a uniform!
The Condemned can only be truly recommended to Steve Austin worshipers, of which there appears to be a sizable number. Chalk me up as baffled as to why; the guy has next to no screen presence and does little to separate himself from every other big bald dude in “professional” wrestling. When that’s your main selling point, one has to wonder how this made it to theaters in the first place.
Studio: Lions Gate Films
Length: 113 Minutes
Rating: R for pervasive strong brutal violence, and for language.
Theatrical Release: April 27, 2007
Directed by: Scott Wiper
Written by: Scott Wiper & Rob Hedden.
Cast: Steve Austin, Vinnie Jones, Rick Hoffman, Robert Mammone, Tory Mussett, Christopher Baker