If you are a male of a certain age, then World Wrestling Entertainment and their ever-changing roster of colourful characters probably played a large part in your youth. Whether it’s Hulk Hogan or the Rock or even Junkyard Dog, everybody had a favourite and the more popular wrestlers always end up going on to attempts at big screen glory. Somewhere along the line WWE boss Vince McMahon said to himself, “If my wrestlers can make movies, why don’t I make movies with my wrestlers?” WWE Films’ last effort was The Marine, a movie I kind of enjoyed for its puerile action thrills that harkened back to the very best of 80s mindless action like Schwarzenegger’s Commando or Stallone’s Cobra. Now is the time for The Condemned, which marks the start of something new for a WWE film: social commentary.
The title refers to an Internet show organized by the Machiavellian Ian Breckel (Robert Mammone), which pits ten death row inmates salvaged from third world gulags from all over the world who are deposited on a desert island in the South Pacific to do battle. The name of the game is survival for 30 hours and if you’re the last man (or woman) standing then you get the chance to start a fabulous new life with a pocket full of cash. Every one of the criminals is fitted with an explosive device on their ankle that prevents escape and ensures that there’ll be only one winner. The show is going live to the web where for the low, low price of $49.95 you can watch ten of the worst cons in the world tear each other limb from limb.
The hero is Jack Conrad (Stone Cold Steve Austin), who may not be as bad as they think. His main opponent is Ewan McStarley (Vinnie “I’m the Juggernaut bitch” Jones), an ex-British soldier and current sociopath.I wasn’t walking in to The Condemned thinking that it was Citizen Kane or even that it was classic Hong Kong action directed by John Woo, but even I was surprised by how stolid the film was. If I go to a movie that has Stone Cold and Vinnie Jones as criminals recruited to fight to the death then I want to see some bare-knuckle brawling. To be fair, I think that Austin and Jones do a pretty good job, but I think, and I can’t believe I’m going to say this, the script lets them down.
Their confrontation is left till almost the very end and if you’re a wrestling fan then chances are this is the one fight in the movie you paid to see and you have to wait over an hour and a half to see it. And not only that, you have to sit through a bunch of stuff about Austin’s character being a black-ops US military man left to rot in a Salvador prison by his government while he had a dedicated divorcee and her two boys at home in Texas waiting for him.Beyond that, the film contains a preachy message about reality TV, how far entertainment can go, the thirst of the public for violence and the responsibility of the media. Huh? I came here to watch wrestlers fight.
And while I appreciate the WWE’s dedication to social responsibility, let’s not forget that the Monday Night Smackdown was a prototype for the blurred lines of reality and entertainment on modern television. There’s a whole scene where a TV reporter chastises the viewing public for indulging in what was basically a podcast snuff film and all you can say is thanks because she’s probably preaching to the wrong congregation. Still, if there’s one thing you can appreciate it’s that all the “Hell yeah, this is awesome” jerks that are working for Breckel get their comeuppance in the end and that’s the type of logic we can all appreciate.Basically, for a big, dumb action movie, The Condemned is too long and too overwrought and when this happens, the least they can do is throw in a crappy looking CGI half human/half scorpion creature.