Director: Scott Wiper
Cast: Steve Austin, Vinnie Jones, Robert Mammone, Rick Hoffman, Tory Mussett, Christopher Baker, Sam Healy, Madeline West, Luke Pegler, Masa Yamaguchi, Emelia Burns, Manu Bennett, Dasi Ruz
MPAA Rating: (for pervasive strong brutal violence, and for language)
Running Time: 1:53
Release Date: 4/27/07
Review by Mark Dujsik
I'd think it would be obvious that it's hypocritical for a movie to attempt to earn its thrills by setting ten hardened death-row inmates to kill each other and then decry the scenario that sets ten hardened death-row inmates to kill each other. I'd think it would be obvious, but I saw The Condemned. No one making the movie, apparently, thought it was obvious. Meant as a break-out project for professional wrestler Steve Austin but evidently forgetting to give him anything to do beyond posing, the movie has a lot of problems, and its blatant hypocrisy is only pretty minor on that list. There's the stuff you'd expect—lack of even the vaguest characterization for 7/10ths of its violent convict population, hack-and-slash editing during the action sequences—but, boy, the movie's moralizing tone is just a joke, really. Let's face it, a movie like this could never work as a worthwhile analysis of society's obsession with violence, but it could possibly work as a no-brainer action flick. Instead, it tries for both and ends up failing miserably on the former end and simply not working on the latter. The combination is a mess, but at least it creates a new sport: full-contact explosion tag.
A television producer named Ian Breckel (Robert Mammone) has a concept: Set ten hardened death-row… Oh, you already know this by now. The prize is that the survivor gets his freedom (the movie is so misogynistic, there's no way any of the female characters is going to win—only one woman is lucky to escape this movie without a scene of violence against her character). He's gotten together nine of them, a crew, which includes old collaborator Goldman (Rick Hoffman) and girlfriend Julie (Tory Mussett), and some media hype because of the illegality and immorality of the show. In fact it's so crazy, Breckel has to stream the show live on the internet, a broadcast he hopes will outdo the Super Bowl. He's interviewed about the project, and the only logical question any reporter should ask in such a situation would be, "Isn't this wrong on multiple levels?" Sadly, it is not asked, and instead, Breckel finds his tenth con American Jack Conrad (Austin) imprisoned in El Salvador. He flies the ten convicts to a remote island in the Pacific (visual allusions to Vietnam inevitably follow) and sets them off to kill each other for their freedom.
So the goal is clear. The way to get to the prize, of course, is to kill off everyone else, but there's a bit of a twist. Breckel has all his convicts rigged with explosive anklets, which will go off if tampered with or if a red tab on it is pulled. So what we get is a bunch of people beating the ever-living crap out of each other until they manage to get a hold of that tab on the anklet, pull it, and run. In ten seconds, their opponent disappears in a very clean explosion. Hence we have the creation of full-contact explosion tag, but it's not nearly as fun as it sounds. No, director Scott Wiper and his cinematographer Ross Emery keep the camera close to the fights, and it seems the cameraman erupts into violent seizures whenever a fight breaks out. Coherency was not on the list of important things to think of while shooting this movie. The camera shakes so much, the action is shot right at the actors' hips, and the editing is so furious, it's nearly impossible to tell what's going on and definitely impossible to get caught up in the action.
Add that to the facts that we have no clue who these people are and can tell who is going to win those big fights based on how less random one character seems than another, and it's even worse than impossible to get involved. Two of the convicts are killed off the second time they appear on screen; the rest get slightly more respect. There's a husband and wife team, a Japanese man who, natch, knows martial arts, and a psychotic Brit named Ewan (Vinnie Jones), who becomes the disposable villain. Or maybe the real villain is Breckel. After all, every time he talks, he gives the audience more reason to hate him. And that's the point, because the game's evil, although it's apparently not because he's turning murder into sport or releasing a violent criminal, but because they lied on Jack's bio. Yes, all of his friends in Texas are watching, and they're pissed because they call Jack a redneck. That's pushing it too far. But some of Breckel's inner circle becomes uncomfortable about the whole thing, and the reporter from the beginning flat out tells us how wrong it is to watch something like this. "Aren't we the condemned?" she intones, and we slap our foreheads.
The movie did open my eyes to something: It's really late to be criticizing reality television for its utter lack of reality. Seriously, this movie didn't just miss the boat on the condemnation of reality TV; it started swimming in the other direction to try to catch up with it. I don't know if Austin, with his slow Texas drawl, could be an action star, and I don't think the movie cares. It's a good thing The Condemned has reaction shots of people concerned with what's happening in the movie, because at least somebody cares.
Copyright © 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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