[Movie Review] The Condemned

The CondemnedStarring: Steve Austin, Vinnie Jones, Robert Mammone, Tory Mussett, Rick Hoffman

Director: Scott Wiper

Genre: Action

Cert: 18

Released: 2007

Dropping ten death row inmates on an island and giving them thirty hours to slaughter each other sounds like it’s the last thing that network television would choose to cover. With that in mind the only choice for TV producer Ian Breckel (Robert Mammone) is to put it out live on the Internet. His target is to get a Superbowl-level audience of forty million to cough up to $50 each for the privilege of seeing these condemned men and women kill each other, with the last person standing receiving their freedom and a pocketful of cash.

Jack Conrad (former wrestler, Steve Austin), on death row in an El Salvadorian prison, is chosen after he batters the Arab prisoner that Breckel initially selected in a bid to please his Middle East demographic. Conrad, billed falsely as a KKK member and bomber of a school for handicapped children, joins Ewan McStarley (Vinnie Jones), Kreston Mackie (footballer Marcus Johnson), wrestler Nathan Jones and six other men and women, all of whom have bombs strapped to their legs.  If you can’t kill your nemesis with your fists or a weapon then you can activate the bomb and make use of the ten second delay to escape its blast.

While the assembled criminals fight for survival, the FBI seem unclear how to track down Breckel’s illegal game. Special Agent Wilkins (Sullivan Stapleton) manages to identify Conrad and uncovers information about his former lover, Sarah (Madeleine West). Sarah hasn’t seen Jack in over a year and immediately logs on to the site so she can watch the slaughter for herself. Yeah…let’s just leave it at that and get on with the critique.

When World Wrestling Entertainment decided that producing movies was a natural extension to their sporting soap opera, hopes were probably not very high at the outset. Even with that in mind, “The Condemned” is a failure on just about every level.

Movies can require a level of ‘suspension of disbelief’ but “The Condemned” asks for far more than is realistic. For a start, it seems completely ridiculous to suggest that the FBI would be unable to use modern tracking techniques to locate where this vast network is running from. I mean they roughly, kind-of-know but the sub-plot amounts to three C-list actors looking tense in a fairly nicely furnished office. Are you telling me that an intelligence agency, responsible for investigating highly organised terrorist gangs around the globe, would not have noticed tonnes of television equipment being shipped to an island? And, independent of that, they couldn’t have the site shut down?

The entire nerve center, a mass of TV screens and television production equipment run by Breckel, technicians Goldman (Rick Hoffman), Eddie (Christopher Baker) and Breckel’s reluctant girlfriend Julie (Tory Mussett), is located on the island too. Perhaps there is not much wrong with that but the fact that finding it for Conrad was about as hard as putting on a pair of shoes indicates that not a lot of thought was put in to Breckel’s master plan. Sure, they try and paint over the cracks by having Conrad block his GPS and be a bit wily but, trust me, it’s lazy and – in the context of the film – absurd.

Director Scott Wiper, whose previous directing outings have barely registered and all of which he has starred in, attempts some social commentary along the lines of how it is us, the audience, who are in fact “the condemned” for wanting to watch the show. That’s all well and good but it’s the ham-fisted manner in which this message is delivered which raises jaded sighs rather than wide-eyed realisation. It’s bad enough that Conrad’s friends gather in a bar to cheer him on but to rubber stamp it with a reporter Donna Sereno’s editorial on the same subject is a case of a director ignoring the golden rule of “show, don’t tell”.

Aside from Breckel talking about the Internet like it’s 1996, the dialogue is actually okay in parts. It’s clear early on though that witty répartie is not safe in the hands of the unskilled “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. I could imagine Bruce Willis being able to raise a laugh by revealing that the reason he blew up a building is because it was “blocking his sun”. Austin just says it.  He doesn’t have a lot to say but one-liners are not his forté. Vinnie Jones, who impressed me in the only “proper” acting role I’ve seen him in (“The Riddle“), resorts to cartoonish villain here and it’s painful.

The fight scenes are pasasble but the camera darts around too much for us to really work out how good, or otherwise, the choreography is. Some of the transitions between scenes don’t feel right either.  You are left feeling like you missed something – maybe not something of consequence but just a small set-up scene that makes the narration seem more cohesive.

Needless to say, not a great piece of work.  Obvious reference point here is Battle Royale.  Watch that instead.


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