The Condemned (4/10)
by Tony Medley
Don’t get me wrong, this
action thriller certainly holds your interest. Conceived by World Wide
Wrestling Entertainment mogul Vince McMahon, it conforms to his concept
of entertainment, which is gross-out violence. The idea is to carry
reality TV shows, like Survivor to their logical extreme. So Ian
Breckel (Robert Mammome) has placed his cameras and microphones all over
a desolate island, sprung ten condemned killers from jail, and turned
them loose, promising that the one who survives will gain freedom. His
hope is that everyone will kill each other until only one survives, all
on live TV.
McMahon’s desire is to use
this film as a vehicle to make one of his wrestlers, Steve Austin (who
plays Jack Conrad), a star. This is an inspired idea because Austin
clearly is no actor, but he is big and he is a wrestler and he’s not bad
looking, I guess, and he can do stunts and fight and be violent.
This movie is full of
gratuitous, graphic violence. In McMahon’s previous effort, The
Marine, the violence was tongue-in-cheek, and the movie humorous.
There’s nothing humorous about this movie. There are extensive shots of
people being beaten to death or blown to smithereens by GPS trackers
that are also bombs attached to their ankles.
Most of the condemned quickly
become sympathetic, except for Ian McStarley (Vinnie Jones), who is
definitely a bad guy, and one of the condemned who becomes his
compatriot, Saiga (Masa Yamaguchi, a martial arts expert). There are a
couple of beautiful women, Jack’s wife, Sarah (Madeleine West), who adds
virtually nothing to the movie other than crying as she watches her
husband get beat up on television, and Julie (Victoria Mussett), who is
Breckel’s woman and who clearly disapproves of the whole thing. There’s
also Breckel’s director, Goldman (Rick Hoffman), whose role is nothing
if not derivative.
McMahon has hired Scott Wiper
to direct all the mayhem. The stunts are ludicrous. People are
constantly beaten to within an inch of their lives, but hardly every
lose consciousness. In the case of Jack, he never loses his ability to
fight back. Wiper eschewed any use of CGI, so all the stunts are done
either by the stars or doubles. In a line that looks as if it could have
come out of one of the movie mags of the 30s-50s, one producer is quoted
as saying, “It was actually very difficult for us to make Steve use a
stunt man in some of the most dangerous sequences – he wanted to do
everything.” When have you ever heard a movie star admit that someone
else did the stunts?
Wiper is not bad in the way
he maintains the momentum of the film. In the end, this is kind of like
The Dirty Dozen meets The Most Dangerous Game. The former
was a terrific book that was made into an entertaining movie. The latter
was a terrific short story that has never made it into anything remotely
resembling an entertaining video. I would have rathered to have seen
someone try that than sit through McMahon’s effort.
I liked the idea of the film,
an attack on reality TV with this over-the-edge idea. It would have been
much better, however, had they left the violence to our imagination
instead of stuffing the film chock-full of visual, exploitive brutality.
It must be said, however,
that McMahon and Lionsgate need a reality check if they release this the
same month of the massacre at Virginia Tech (I went to Law School in
Charlottesville, about a hundred miles from Blacksburg). People who
create “entertainment” as violent and gory as The Condemned must
share in the responsibility for the wacko people who go on such
murderous outbreaks. When violence is shown so graphically, it has
become inevitable that it influences the mentally unstable. But, in the
end, what would you expect from McMahon, who has made his fortune
glorifying wrestling, off all things, Hamlet?
I will admit that I was
stimulated enough to keep from sleeping through the entire thing, while
at the same time repulsed. Even so, I condemn The Condemned, the
people who made it, pandering as they do to the lowest common
denominator, and, especially, its release at a time of national tragedy.
April 20, 2007