You probably wouldn’t expect a movie about hardened killers battling each other to the death to be funny, but here’s what’s hilarious about “The Condemned”:
It has the audacity to serve as a self-righteous indictment of graphic, gratuitous violence, even though that’s exactly what it’s peddling. A World Wrestling Entertainment film, under the watch of WWE Chairman/Executive Producer Vince McMahon, pretending to have a soul? Yeah, good stuff there.
“The Condemned” also attempts to dress us down as a society for being such mindless sheep that we’ll watch anything shocking — and it scolds the media and entertainment industry for constantly pushing the limits of what’s considered shocking. This from the people who made the word “smackdown” part of the American lexicon.
Anyway, it’s all very amusing — and it would seem even more so if it weren’t such a disheartening, headache-inducing barrage.
Stone Cold Steve Austin actually deserves better. The longtime wrestling superstar seems like a likable guy — potentially, a burly action hero in the tradition of Arnold Schwarzenegger, someone who has an intimidating presence but enough of a sense of humor to drop a deadpan one-liner here and there.
“The Condemned,” from director Scott Wiper, gives Austin a chance to show off a bit of comic timing, but it’s far more interested in his brawn than whatever brain he might possess beneath that enormous shaved dome of his. (Wiper also co-wrote the script with Rob Hedden. How it took two people to come up with a screenplay that consists mostly of explosions, body blows and kicks to the head is baffling.)
Austin stars as Jack Conrad, one of 10 prisoners plucked from death rows around the world and dropped by helicopter — literally — onto a remote island for a deadly reality competition being broadcast live on the Internet. Mad-genius producer Ian Breckel (Robert Mammone, who resembles Mark Burnett, which surely is no coincidence) has assembled them to have them kill each other. Whoever is left standing gets to go free — giving a whole new meaning to the word “survivor” — though Breckel is such an abusive megalomaniac, you wouldn’t mind seeing him go down first.
His tech-geek buddy Goldman (the equally obnoxious Rick Hoffman) has placed hundreds of remote cameras all over the island to zoom in on wherever the action crops up. That includes the beating and rape of a female competitor (Dasi Ruz) in front of her husband and partner in crime (Manu Bennett), one of the film’s many examples of deeply disturbing misogyny.
There’s a German, a Russian, a black man from Inglewood, Calif. Soccer star Vinnie Jones, as a former British special forces agent sentenced to die for rape, murder and torture, emerges as a favorite, having formed an alliance with the Japanese martial arts expert. It’s sort of like the Olympics — only with more bloodshed and shakier camerawork.
And of course, there’s our man, Conrad, who has to last until the end because ... well, because he’s the dude the movie was created for. And because there’s a beautiful blonde (Madeline West) waiting for him at a farmhouse back home who, stupidly, has been unable to stop herself from entering her credit card number and paying $49.95 for the privilege of watching the man she loves being tortured.
“The Condemned” has a bit more panache and fire to it than the two previous WWE movies: “See No Evil,” starring the 7-footer Kane, and “The Marine” with beefy John Cena. It also has headier stuff in mind than those two movies — and that’s its pathetic downfall.