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Movie Review: The Condemned

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How far is too far? Reality television isn't going away, and with everyone looking for the next way to shock an audience, how far away are we from a show that introduces a real battle to the death? The way things are going, it does not seem to be that far removed from reality.

From the ratings that shows like American Idol and Survivor generate, combined with the wall to wall, twenty-four hour coverage of such tragedies as the recent Virginia Tech shooting, Columbine, and the ongoing war in the Middle East, I would not be hard pressed to believe that there is some unscrupulous producer concocting a scheme to inject a little more shock and awe into what is presently acceptable for prime time television. It is this very subject that The Condemned seeks to contend with. Sadly, it doesn't hit the broad side of a barn.

The Condemned is the third go around for WWE Films, distributed through an agreement with Lionsgate. Their first film was the successful slasher film See No Evil which featured Kane as the resident psychopath. That was followed by the '80s-styled actioner The Marine with John Cena in the title role. The WWE Superstar to get tapped this time? None other than '90s badass icon Stone Cold Steve Austin, playing a Snake Plissken-esque renegade.

The story follows heartless television producer Ian Breckel (Robert Mammone) as he travels the world looking for a wide array of death row inmates to buy. He buys them in order to pit them against each other in a battle to the death, with freedom as the prize. Once he has all of his players in place, he equips them with an explosive ankle collar, to help keep them in line. The ten condemned contestants are dropped around the island, and essentially left to their own devices as the game gets underway.

The concept is sound, although it is a mash-up of other films such as Battle Royale, No Escape, Running Man, Series 7, My Little Eye, and even Halloween: Resurrection. I have no problem with recycled plots (see my enjoyment of Vacancy).

What I have a problem with is the fact that it is just a mash-up; there seemed to be little to no thought put into the execution. I can picture it now. The writers are pitching the story: "It's going to be great! You see, we take all these hardcore killers from around the world and put them on an island so they can fight each other to the death!"

"Well, okay, what's the catch?"

"This is where you're really gonna get excited! It is actually a contest being broadcast over the Internet! It'll be a bigger event that the Super Bowl!"

"Sold, cast Stone Cold in the lead and you got yourself a deal!"

"Awesome! We can have a script for your approval in an hour."

I like the idea, and I think that it is one that can be done a few times over and still retain a level of interest. Watching this one play out, I couldn't help but shake my head in dismay at what was unfolding in front of me. Granted, I was not expecting much, I just hoped to have a little fun, but even with low expectations, I could not find much to hang on to. It wanted it so much to be a message film about our infatuation with violence and what kind of effect it has on people, who draws the line, and who decides when the line is crossed.

There are a few threads that play out through the film. One is the game itself with the ten convicts roaming the island, a second is a change of heart among the production staff, an FBI investigation into the game, and a faltering relationship between Austin's Jake Conrad and a divorced mother of two in Texas. None of them have any depth, and none of them are all that believable.

Above the attempted stories and messages, this is meant to be an action film. The problem is that they forgot to include the action. Sure, there are a few fist fights and a couple of explosions, but the action is not exciting and it is not compelling; in fact, the fights may be the most incompetently shot excuses for action I have seen in a long, long time.

Whenever a fight starts, the cameraman goes into convulsions with the camera waggling every which way. It is so bad as to induce motion sickness and confuse the viewer. I had no idea what I was looking at. They should have gotten ahold of the WWE production crew to learn how to pull back and let us see the fights; it's okay to use some wild inserts, but give us some perspective on what we are watching.

Beyond the poor action, the characters were flat, uninspired, and rather boring. We do not get to learn all that much about them, aside from their criminal status, and thus are not given a reason to care about any of them. Sure, they try to give Austin a bit of likability, but it was not nearly enough. Then the evil producer… well, I don't think we are supposed to like him anyway, but the staff members who have a change of heart are another story altogether. It is handled in a heavy-handed way, and not at all realistically. They want you to believe that they are suddenly shocked by what they are seeing, when they all entered into this with their eyes open. I didn't buy their faux shock.

Believe it or not, there were a couple of things I liked, but they were not enough to make this watchable, or even recommendable for the cheese factor. I liked Austin, but he isn't given much to do, and his attempts at being sensitive are awful, and watching him run is painful. But put him in a fight or give him a snappy one-liner, and he is your man.

Then there is Vinnie Jones, who made Juggernaut so memorable last year in X-Men: The Last Stand. He makes a memorable mark as a wisecracking murderer and rapist. Finally, Rick Hoffman, who was the American businessman in Hostel, gives a goofy, highly caffeinated turn as the director of the game. Well, that is about it for the likability of the movie.

Director Scott Wiper does not impress with this outing. What could (and should) have been a fun, over the top action fest turned out to be a drawn out affair that goes nowhere as the stories either taper out or are ended with an unsatisfying conclusion. The writing is right down there with the directing; you can add in all the one-liners you want, but you have to have a compelling tale, or at least a fun story.

Bottom line. This is a movie that would have been better left on the shelf, or at most gone direct to video. The story is flat, acting is atrocious, direction unbearable, all adding up to an action movie without the action, a message film that fails to make a point. Oh well, at least it gave me something to write about.

Not Recommended.

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About Draven99

  • http://www.breakingwindows.com Matt Paprocki

    The sad thing is it will almost be a lock for a solid profit margin at theaters, and then of course on video like the previous two. Haven’t seen See No Evil, but The Marine was enough for me and WWE films for a while.

    My condolences for sitting through this one.

  • http://draven99.blogspot.com Chris Beaumont

    Thanks Matt. You know, the premise had the potential for fun, but the excution was just so bad.

    I will say that I really liked See No Evil and had fun with The Marine.

  • http://blogcritics.org/video Lisa McKay

    Congratulations! This article has been selected for syndication to Advance.net, which is affiliated with newspapers around the United States, and Boston.com, which will allow even more readers to enjoy it.

  • http://www.myspace.com/grappwarrior84 Geoff Rapp

    Hey man, I’m gonna have to disagree with you on this one. I will give you that the shooting of the action scenes was a little spastic, but to say, for one, that there was no action in the movie??? There was more action in this movie than I’ve seen in a long time. I put it up there with “Die Hard” and “The Punisher,” two of my favorite movies. I gave this movie a 9 out of 10, and I am by no means gracious with reviews. Also, I thought the acting was excellent, especially for a WWE film. I was on the edge of my seat throughout the movie, was thoroughly happy with the ending, and I’m quite surprised that you thought so low of it.

    Oh, and trust me, I HATED The Marine.

  • L 3.16

    I respect all of your opinions but, please
    Don’t tell me the condemned got one and a
    half stars, please.I’m a real big fan of auston and I would hate to see him in an
    Unsuccesful movie,did the movie get at least two starz

  • robby

    I agree with the review above and would like to add this “feeding the big headed American ego” thing ive been seeing alot lately in movies.

    As soon as Austins character was introduce i new immediately that he purpose was to make all the Americans clap for how great their country is. This was obviously over contrasted when the millionaire guy originally wants to select and Arab but then choses an _amazing_ American fighter instead. The Arab is meant to highlight a terrorist and quoted from the movie, “someone with bombs strapped to them” and the interchange from him chosen the Arab to the American clearly slapped into anyones face that this movie is meant to get all the Americans on the edge of their seat screaming “YEAH AMERICA ROCKS SCREW THE MIDDLE EAST”, which relates to a big issue with war that most Americas think about and support their country for.

    He even says in the movie “The world hates America lets put another American in to get the rest of the world hyped up.” This instantly raise’s the question in most Americans mind, “The world shouldnt hate us, America is great, we will show you world!” then you see a Austin the big buff “save the day” American and everyone in the cinema yells “America F$#k YEAH!”..

    Throughout the movie you will find many highlights back to the bar (or some place in America that wasn’t introduced correctly) where they are all cheering for Mr America. How nice Mr America is compared to the others, How he was somehow wrongly convicted for his crimes or something. Lets also say “super bowl” a hundred times get the FBI involved (not the UN) and claim the FBI is “saving the Americans from the events that are taking place”. Nothing for any other countries AT ALL!!

    Do you get to see any other countries watching the show. Do you get introduced to any other characters families from outside of America. In fact i only heard the origin of one other character that was on the island outside of the US in that movie and that was Italy. This was supposed to include characters from all over the world, thus the whole “Internet” thing.

    In saying that, the whole “America vs the world” situation going on in the game also amped up the American audience (and yes of course America won).

    Now it probably doesnt bother most of you because most of the viewers are from America and most Americas do have a over affectionate nature towards their country but when your watching this movie from the seat of any other part of the world this point stands so clear and its very annoying..

    This movie is like inviting a friend over to your place for beers and all night he doesn’t shut up about how good he is and how buff and tough he is.. just a constant brag coming out of their mouth. Its very frustrating.

    I guess i should stop watching American movies.. I can live with that, there all as shit as this movie is anyways.