February 2, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 36°F


Tired story fails to convey deeper social meanings

To no one’s surprise, professional wrestling stars don’t have the greatest track record when it comes to headlining movies. After all, wrestlers are built for action, not acting. But as long as they’re provided with asses to kick and things to blow up, the results should still be somewhat tolerable. (See Duane “The Rock” Johnson in “The Scorpion King.”) Take the wrestler too far out of his element, and Hulk Hogan becomes “Mr. Nanny.” Enough said.

Enter “The Condemned,” the heartwarming story of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and nine other death-row inmates let loose on a deserted island to fight to the death for the entertainment of millions of rabid Internet voyeurs. It might sound like the perfect starring vehicle for a World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) superstar like Austin, but that doesn’t make it a good movie, even by WWE subsidiary WWE Films standards.

Beginning with a premise that rips off everything from “The Running Man” to the classic short story “The Most Dangerous Game,” “The Condemned” isn’t the type of movie one would look to for originality. As a result, the film’s cleverly modern take on the old “island of death” scenario in the Internet age is mostly a source for missed opportunities rather than pointed social commentary.

The island’s proverbial Dr. Moreau is sinister television producer Ian Breckel (Robert Mammone). Using some sort of craigslist, but for locating international criminals instead of used furniture, Breckel collects 10 of the world’s most nefarious criminals for “The Condemned,” his aptly named online snuff tournament. For $49.99, viewers get to watch live footage of the cons as they beat, stab and maim their way to victory and, perhaps, freedom.

Breckel is the film’s most exciting character creation. The smug entrepreneur willing to do what it takes to make a buck, his character combines the cocky ego of a Mark Cuban–type with the sleaze of “Girls Gone Wild” CEO Joe Francis. When Breckel is lambasted on a fictional talk show later on, for billing violent exploitative carnage as entertainment, the irony of this movie being released by the WWE becomes almost too much to handle.

Then it’s back to the island, where Steve Conrad (Austin) leads most of the fighting. His role gets most of the fun drained out of it early in the film when it’s revealed that he is not really a bloodthirsty ex-con like the rest of the gang, but rather a wrongly convicted man. Still, Austin handles the brute part with considerable gusto. Either that, or he’s just believable as a big, hulking, fighting machine.

What’s annoying is that, as if people weren’t going to root for Austin already, his little bit of back story forces audiences to endure dull moments with Austin’s hottie wife back home (Madeleine West), as she watches her husband fight it out from the computer at the local bar. It’s a little disorienting to watch her mindlessly cheer like it’s the Super Bowl when her husband throws a punch, then sob uncontrollably when he’s the recipient of a beating.

Scenes like that reveal the essential disjointedness of “The Condemned.” First the film wants people to cheer for Austin as he blows up that helicopter or punches a dude, then they’re supposed to wonder if it’s sad that this is what people view as entertainment. Too bad they can’t just have their grenades and explode them too.

“The Condemned” was written by Rob Hedden and Scott Wiper, and directed by Wiper.

“The Condemned” received 2 1/2 out of 4 stars.