Yet another WWE film. Remember, kids: FUCK BEER!
Think of this as a more adult and Americanised (by way of Survivor: Vanuatu!) Battle Royale, and you would have the premise of The Condemned down pat. Step 1: take 10 criminals on death row around the world, dump them on an island in Indonesia, and let them fight to death for the grand prize of freedom and loads of cash to help the lucky winner to start their life anew. Step 2: broadcast this over the internet as a pay per view event. Step 3: Profit!
There isn't much to say aside from pointing out that WWE's Steve Austin and perennial tough guy Vinnie Jones are the star actors in this movie. Luckily, they're not tag-teaming at all - Vinnie Jones is a psychotic badass rouge British special forces officer who takes pride in eliminating all opposition, and far more joy in personally ensuring that the deaths of his opponents are painful, unpleasant, and very humiliating, while Steve Austin is the tough but fair guy with a mysterious past and a girlfriend back in town whom you know you should root for. The island, the scenery, and the other 8 contestants are just cannon fodder for these 2 giants to chew up as they approach the final showdown, of course.
Make no bones about it: The Condemned sets out to tell a story about 10 people trying to kill (openly, or by subterfuge; bare-handed, or with exotic weapons - anything goes!) each other while millions on the internet watch on. Like Battle Royale, most of the runtime here is devoted to how the contestants hunt down and kill each other. The movie's almost workmanlike in its singlemindedness, but what saves it is the enthusiastic acting by Vinnie Jones (he's clearly having fun here), and Steve Austin's heroic rebel attitude. And if you're a fan of entertainment wrestling, do keep a close watch on the various wrestling manoeuvres that are performed in the fight sequences. Try to ignore, if you can, the slightly high count of plot holes in the script that you'd expect to have taken care of for a movie with this budget.
The only things that make The Condemned a lesser film than Battle Royale is its lack of levity, wit, and satire - it is, after all, a very American action film. In its defense, however, I would like to point out that Scott Wiper adds a very interest angle to the old premise by turning the spotlight onto the media, and audience's taste for watching violence. The buildup is handled very slowly, so that when the eventual denouncement comes, it's only when things have built up to a slow boil - and not because the director decided to insert a moralistic speech at the end of the movie. Of course, if violence in movies doesn't do anything for you, maybe it's not a good idea to watch The Condemned. For everyone else, and for die-hard fans of WWE and Vinnie Jones, this B-grade action flick isn't a bad deal at all.
First published at incinemas on 19 July 2007