As far as movies produced by wrestling federations go, The Condemned is the cream of the crop. Of course, when your only competition is See No Evil (2006), a slasher flick helmed by a former porn director, and the unintentionally hilarious cheese-a-thon The Marine (2006), then being at the top of the heap is no great shakes. While The Condemned is not a good film, it’s not as awful as its pedigree might have you suspect, and does a surprisingly good job (to a certain extent) of being entertaining in a mindless sort of way. (To be honest, its rating probably would’ve been half a star higher if they hadn’t tacked a Nickelback song onto the ending).
The film is more or less a mix of the Japanese cult hit Battle Royale (2000) and the Arnold Schwarzenegger actioner The Running Man (1987), and follows an unscrupulous, multi-millionaire TV producer (Robert Mammone, The Great Raid) who has decided to collect a group of death-row convicts from various third-world prisons to serve as characters on a new type of reality show. The idea is to drop them on a remote island in the Pacific, where the reprobates will be forced to fight to the death. The last man or woman alive will be set free with a pocket full of cash, and the entire event broadcast live over the Internet. What isn’t factored in is the last-minute addition of Jack Conrad (played by pro wrestler “Stone Cold” Steve Austin), an American convict with a mysterious past who has ideas other than murder and mayhem.
From this point, the movie is mostly a bunch of ne’er-do-wells running around the jungle, occasionally getting into brutal fight scenes. And while there is very little new going on in these sequences, they work as simple entertainment, though they too often fall into the shaky-cam-close-up school of action direction. It’s when the film decides to introduce exposition and plot that it grinds to a halt. Much of the narrative—such as a superfluous plot about the FBI’s attempts at shutting down the competition—is extraneous. And the majority of the dialogue—complete with the obligatory tough guy one-liners, “Sounds like you had a tough life—good thing it’s about to end”—is either clunky or awkward or both. This does lead to maybe the most amazingly dumb macho retort in the history of film, about an Alaskan fishing village called “f*** your momma.”
Austin never embarrasses himself as an actor, but that was probably pretty easy, since he’s never given more to do other than look grim and muscular. His lack of range is only glaringly obvious when he’s pitted against Vinnie Jones, who even in a thankless role whose only requirement is for him to act extremely British, still has charisma to spare—and once again shows that he should be doing better movies than this.
Director Scott Wiper, who before now had been relegated to the land of straight-to-video releases, attempts to beef up the importance of the film with a tacked on message near the end, criticizing our culture’s glorification, exploitation and need of violence. This would be fine, and even a bit commendable, if the next 20 minutes of the movie wasn’t filled with gunplay and explosions. Since The Condemned is not Straw Dogs (1971) or A History of Violence (2005), and Wiper is not Sam Peckinpah or David Cronenberg, the point the film attempts to make comes across as ham-fisted and specious to say the least. However, The Condemned also isn’t the Hulk Hogan vehicle Mr. Nanny (1993), and that’s in any movie’s favor. Rated R for pervasive strong brutal violence and for language.
— reviewed by Justin Souther