Condemned, The (2007)

The Condemned (click for larger image)Starring “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Vinnie Jones, Rick Hoffman, Robert Mammone, Tory Musset

Directed by Scott Wiper

Look, it’s trying to think.” – Miguel Ferrer in Twin Peaks

There’s no better way to sum up The Condemned, the latest disposable effort from the muscle-heads at WWE Films. Yup, the group behind such inane titles as See No Evil and The Marine are at it again, and this time they’ve set their narrow sites on the infamous death sport genre. Why Lionsgate is pimping this particular film to the horror crowd is a bit perplexing, but it probably has to do with its similarities to a certain cult masterpiece known as Battle Royale. Your average beer-swilling wrestling fan doesn’t know about them there subtitled movies, so the filmmakers probably figured they were safe. But genre fans? We know better.

The Condemned is the name of a controversial web show that pits death row inmates against each other. A group of ten convicts are selected, equipped with exploding ankle bracelets, and dropped on a secluded island where they have two days to battle until one remains. To the victor go the spoils: a butt-load of cash and a full pardon (which TV producers can grant, apparently). Trapped in the middle is Jack Conrad (Stone Cold), the ass-kicking man of peace. He’s the good guy, and we know he’s good because he wound up in a South American prison on a hero’s mission for the U.S. military. He’s done killing and wants to find a non-violent solution with his fellow cons. But on the other end of the spectrum is the psychotic Kiriyam-…er, Ewan McStarley (Vinnie Jones) a homicidal maniac famous for killing some people (hopefully his parents for naming him). Wanna bet he pushes ol’ Stoney too far?

The Condemned (click for larger image)For those who saw (or can even recall) last year’s See No Evil, it shouldn’t come as a shock that a WWE film uses every cliché and stereotype in the book. With a movie like this all you can ask for is some good check-your-brain-at-the-door ultra-violence, but that’s where The Condemned really drops the ball. Good or bad, the one thing you could always count on in these death sport flicks was over-the-top creative death scenes. No such luck here. Writer/director Scott Wiper takes his concept way too seriously and tries his damndest to fashion the violence into something gritty and disturbing.

You see, The Condemned has something to say about our degenerating culture. In between beat-downs, one-liners, and blaring pop music (buy the soundtrack… please!), the flick shows us the inner-workings of the webcast, led by the story’s real villain – a cartoonishly-evil media mogul named Ian (Robert Mammone) who champions violent art and abuses his staff. The only things this guy is missing are two naked bimbos and a bed full of money. It’s here that the action grinds to a halt and things get uber-preachy. Yes, you heard right: A blood-drenched action movie made by the WWE actually wags its finger at violent entertainment, the people who make it, and the people who watch it – which, I guess, goes for those in the audience. That’s right, you sir! The one who paid good money to see this very film! For shame!

Imagine if “The Undertaker” started lecturing against the greedy death-care industry, then appeared on Six Feet Under and started pile-driving The Fishers. That’s the kind of loopy mentality behind this movie, and just when things couldn’t get more ridiculous, one character straight-up asks the question: “Who really are The Condemned?” Wow. That’s … like … deep, man.

All that said, this is one trainwreck that’s good for some unintentional laughs and best viewed with a lot of booze. The performances and production values are even above-average while “Stone Cold” proves he can act with the best of them. The only thing that’s boring is the action. But isn’t this supposed to be an action movie? Or is it a dark social commentary? And if the filmmakers hate sensationalist violence, shouldn’t they hate themselves?

This is the kind of paradox that causes robots to explode.

2 out of 5

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Steve Barton

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