Reality television has plagued the air waves for some time now. It seems every time you change a channel, there is a new “Survivor,” or Simon Cowell is saying something (reasonably) mean-spirited. But what if reality television went too far, and over 40 million households world-wide tuned in to see ten convicts brutally murder each other on an island? That is the basic premise behind the film “The Condemned,” and while it sounds interesting on paper, the follow through is less than entertaining… unless you like unintentional humor.
Ian Breckel (Robert Mammone) is a rebel billionaire television producer who has bought an island. Along with the island, he has bought ten prisoners on death row in order to force them to fight to the death, while he broadcasts the entire event over the internet. Our hero, Jack Conrad (Steve Austin) is one of the convicted (who also happens to be a Black-Ops soldier) who has to fight to save his life against the likes of Ewan McStarley (Vinnie Jones), so he can get off this island and go back to Texas to be with his wife who he hasn’t seen in years.
Going in, I thought we were getting an all-out brawl on an island. Instead, there are some fights, but also frequent, and misplaced, melodrama in the form of Jack’s wife and a random FBI subplot. This movie could have been more entertaining if we were allowed to spend more time on the island instead of the constant detours once the fighting starts.
The film is directed by Scott Wiper and while, yes, the story was mired by the wife sub-plot, overall you can see noble intentions and that he did set out to make something of a social statement on society’s enjoyment of violence as entertainment. Unfortunately, the statement is best left as a subtle undercurrent instead of expressed verbatim (when a character in the film openly asks who “the condemned” really are, those that fight on the island or those that paid to watch, it hits the nail too hard on the head).
In regards to the violence in the movie, while it does have a bit of superhuman brawl quality to it, there are more than enough moments where the fighting is not only dirty, but ugly. A sequence involving a brutal beating and a rape is, while not being as in-your-face as something like “Irreversible,” just as uncomfortable and offensive. And to echo my previous sentiment, moments like these go much farther to prove the sickness inherent in violence as entertainment far better than anyone on screen vocalizing it.
For fans of the WWE, this film is a complete and total showcase of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. For some of you, that may seem awful, but this film is much more bearable than other WWE movies like “The Marine” or “See No Evil.” That doesn’t mean this is a good movie in any right, and Austin may not make as big of a splash as the Rock did in his endeavors (good or bad) but this is still much better than one would expect going in. The biggest problem with these vehicle films for wrestlers is that you understand as the movie begins that the wrestler is going to win, thus making the rest of the film empty of suspense since there can be no other outcome.
I have already discussed how much I hated the off island sub-plot, but I also had issues with the lack of character arc for any of the convicts. Yes, Austin was the lead, yet I didn’t like him or any of the other cons, since none of them had any real personality. The only character I even liked seeing in the film was Breckel’s techie Goldman (finally more than just a bit role for Rick Hoffman). He was the only character in the film who had any sort of internal struggle, whose conscience waffles back and forth.
Then again, I know, this movie is obviously not supposed to be a thinking picture (despite the fact that, underneath it all, it actually does contain the necessary pieces to make a solid statement). This is a popcorn flick first and foremost, and should be treated as such. It is entertaining, but don’t look to glean too much from it other than a few cool fight scenes and some funny one-liners.