"The Most Dangerous Game." "No Escape." "The Truman Show." "Series 7." "The Running Man." "Battle Royale." Watching any of these films would be preferable to subjecting oneself to "The Condemned," a dumb-as-a-box-of-nails actioner that liberally steals from all of the above. Distributed by Lionsgate and produced through WWE Filmsthis is their second picture, following 2006's forgettable slasher movie "See No Evil
""The Condemned" serves as a woeful starring vehicle for professional wrestler Steve Austin, a despicably mean-spirited body-count thriller, and a laughably heavy-handed sermon railing against the modern-day media's greedy thirst for exploitation as a means of entertainment.
Soulless, money-hungry television producer Ian Breckel (Robert Mammone) has come up with a reality show premise so extreme that it will only be available as a live streaming webcast: strand ten death-row criminals on a desolate New Guinea island, each with a bomb/tracking device strapped to their ankle, and force them to fight each other to the death. After thirty hours, the last person standing will be a free man (or woman). They're all a disposable lot in terms of the minimal character development they receive, but two contenders become the front-runnerspsychotic British killer Ewan McStarley (Vinnie Jones) and wrongly-imprisoned American Jack Conrad (Steve Austin). Meanwhile, back at the control base, the behind-the-scenes team of producers and technicians find themselves questioning the morality (or lack thereof) in what they are doing.
Hitting just about every moldy cliché recently spoofed and made fun of in "Hot Fuzz
," "The Condemned" is ultimately done in by its immorality. Brutally violent and unappealingly sensationalistic, writer-director Scott Wiper and co-screenwriter Rob Hedden (2002's "Clockstoppers
") try to reason out their own disregard for human life by turning the picture into a preachy diatribe about who we have become as a nation. Initially, the movie appears to be startlingly timely, filled to the brim with hot-button issues and a decided anti-American stance. A mass-murder shootout near the end also might strike a bit too close to home with the tragic events at Virginia Tech less than two weeks old. It doesn't take long, however, for these themes and messages to grow really, really old, used in the least subtle of ways and jammed down the viewer's throat to the point where one feels like throwing it back up all over the filmmakers in charge.
Based on his wooden performance here, Steve Austin (2005's "The Longest Yard
") should never appear in front of a camera again unless he is in a wrestling ring. His Jack Conrad is the hero of the piecea more or less innocent man and the one who is meant to be rooted forbut Austin has zero charisma and nonexistent appeal outside of his muscular physique. Even with the narrow demands of the screenplayJack speaks entirely in one-liners and stock action-movie quotesAustin is in way over his head. As main adversary Ewan McStarley, Vinnie Jones (2006's "X-Men: The Last Stand
") is a lot better; it's a one-note character, but he plays evil and hateful rather well. Also frequently rising above the surrounding mediocrity is Rick Hoffman (2006's "Hostel
"), whose intense turn as Goldman, a production technician with a nagging conscience, makes one wish it weren't at the service of a steaming pile of hooey.
Clocking in at a long-winded 110 minutes, "The Condemned" is overstuffed and frankly doesn't know when to quit. A purely disposable '80s-style action flick at heart, director Scott Wiper insists on throwing in wobbly, hypocritical political statements and another whole subplot involving Jack's girlfriend Sarah (Madeleine West), as she nervously watches the webcast at the local bar back home. Whenever the film decides to return to the deadly goings-on on the island, the fight scenes are competently shot but laced with an underlying ugliness that the movie ironically goes to great pains to, well, condemn. There's no fun to be had at "The Condemned," and nothing to take away from it that isn't distastefully jack-hammered home to the point of nausea. Afterwards, all you want to do is hop in the shower to wash the muck off.