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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