The Condemned

2007, Movie, R, 100 mins

Review

CONDEMNED, THE
starstarstarstar
While it would be unfair to say there's never been a pro wrestler who could act his way out of a pair of spandex tights — Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson comes to mind — their track record is certainly poor. And even by the low standards of John Cena and Glen "Kane" Jacobs, the most recent musclemen around whom the WWE saw fit to build movies — THE MARINE and SEE NO EVIL (both 2006), respectively — "Stone Cold" Steve Austin is conspicuously inarticulate and uncharismatic. Former soccer lout Vinnie Jones, whom no one will ever mistake for Laurence Olivier, acts rings around him.

Unprincipled programming executive Ian Breckel (Robert Mammone) has come up with the ultimate reality TV show. He liberates 10 unrepentant murderers, eight men and two women, from various third-world hellholes and drops them — literally — onto a deserted island with orders to kill or be killed. Each is fitted with an explosive ankle bracelet that will be detonated by Breckel's technical team if they try to escape or if more than one person is alive after 30 hours; the sole survivor gets to go free. Breckel will broadcast the competition online for the low, low price of $49.95, and anticipates Super Bowl-class viewership. All death-row inmates not being equal, the tag team of sociopathic former Special Forces operative Ewan McStarley (Jones), revenge-killer/failed political assassin Go Saiga (Masa Yamaguchi) and American loner Jack Conrad (Austin), a covert military agent abandoned to his fate after a black op in El Salvador went wrong, quickly emerge as the front-runners. Meanwhile, Breckel's insipid girlfriend (Victoria Mussett) and chief technical whiz (Rick Hoffman) start worrying about the morality of snuff TV. (Why this thought never occurred to them in preproduction is never addressed.) And back in the U.S., Conrad's girlfriend (Madeleine West) is worried, and some FBI agents are trying to uncover the location of Breckel's island and talk about Conrad's backstory, subplots that not only slow down the main story, but feel as though they were lifted from a different movie.

Perhaps the worst aspect of this shameless rehash of better movies like BATTLE ROYALE (2000), SERIES 7 (2001) and even THE RUNNING MAN (1987) is not its astonishing dullness but its pretentions to moral rectitude. The message — entertainment providers who pander to people's basest instincts are venal whoremongers — is trite, and if there are corporate entities with less claim to the moral high ground than the WWE and Lions Gate Entertainment, purveyors of bone-crushing smackdowns and gory horror films, none come immediately to mind. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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