My expectations weren’t all that high when I went into this movie. I was expecting just a standard 90 minute filler with the odd groan-worthy one-liner here and there. But, I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised from this movie. Purely bred from the 1980s, The Condemned is a flat-out, no apologies, ra-ra action movie. While it may lumber on a bit longer than it should, it’s still a pretty solid ride for the duration.
Get your adrenaline pumping with one of the top names in WWE history – Stone Cold Steve Austin. Austin stars as Jack Conrad, a death-row prisoner in a corrupt Central American prison, who is “purchased” by a wealthy television producer and taken to a desolate island to participate in an illegal reality game show. Conrad must fight to the death against nine other condemned killers from all corners of the world, with freedom going to the sole survivor. With no possible escape – and millions of viewers watching the uncensored violence online – Conrad must use all of his strength to remain the last man standing.
The above synopsis sounds pretty generic and, in a way, the movie is. But this move was handled with pure 1980’s sensibilities. Just toss in Hulk Hogan and replace the internet with a pirated TV station, and you have a movie firmly entrenched in the glory days of the 1980s. We even have the 1980’s classic “knife cuts shirt and superficially cuts skin” wound, which you see in nearly every non-The Terminator Arnold Schwarzenegger film. You know exactly who’s going to die, who’ll live, and that beneath his supposed killer exterior, Stone Cold Steve Austin is just a sweetie at heart who yearns to hold his wife again. It’s cute, I have to say, and completely 1980’s. But, in a good way.
While this movie may be inspired by the classic 1980’s action films of yore, the premise is updated and modified for today. We have the illegal reality game show broadcasted over the internet, cell phones are everywhere, and there’s more than a few mentions of “Anti-Americanism” due to the war, etc. The film essentially the action-film formula from the 1980’s and, like I’ve said repeatedly, it works. Most surprisingly, Austin makes for a well rounded good guy. There’s an air of mystery about him, one that makes us question his supposed criminal background. When it turns out that not all is it seems with him and his supposed background, it becomes apparent he doesn’t belong alongside the rest of these condemned killers.
But, that’s also a problem for the film. How can we cheer for these people, save Austin? There’s a handful of characters, specifically a husband and wife team, who we’re supposed to gain sympathy for. But how? They’re all stated to be serial killers, rapists, crooks, etc. Yes, they were taken from their dingy cells, most probably not agreeing to this competition, but that doesn’t wipe their slate clean in any way. Plus, most of them are completely unlikable and impossible to root for. Are we supposed to rationalize this by trying to root for the people who are “less evil” than the others? And the movie makes it pretty clear who’s the real bad guy in this flick. And, if you’ve seen a commercial for it or the cover art, you’ll know that it’s Vinnie Jones (X-Men 3: The Last Stand). He’s a bad guy among bad guys, yes, but he’s an uber-bad guy. He rapes, he kills innocents, he’s an all-around scum bag, and has apparently committed more atrocities than the rest of The Condemned.
Of course, some get dispatched pretty quickly, including one humorous scene where one of the contestants is thrown a bit off course, landing on a fence (in a particularly bad way, I might add).
The movie does try to rationalize itself a few times, particularly during a very out of place last minute call for sanity from a TV personality, shaming anyone who watches this illegal reality television series and calls out the greed of reality TV exploitation. It’s a bit over-the-top and worth a giggle, but it does play off a valid point made earlier by one of the television crew, the sort-of girlfriend of the show’s creator, that this show is, basically, inhumane. And it’s a good point, too. They’d deserve to be treated as humans until their visit to the gas chamber, and this show is, essentially, cruelty to humans. And, without missing a beat, our evil TV producer chimes on about the all-mighty dollar. The movie just seems hypocritical, trying to justify itself as we watch, basically, what they’re selling in the reality TV program. There are a few moments when the movie tries to make itself out for more than it is, and actually succeeds. It tries to take a stance on anti-violence, but all that is quickly pushed aside as it heads toward the finale.
In the end, this is a 1980’s move masquerading as a 2007 flick. The hero is obvious from the get-go and is the only person worth rooting for. Every single person gets their comeuppance in one form or another, and we’re treated to elaborate action scene after action scene with the odd moment of pretension sprinkled about. And all this leads to a satisfactory showdown between the hero and the ultimate bad guy in the flick. Amongst all this, there are a few difficult scenes to watch with some very intense content. However, in the end, it’s entertaining, testosterone-driven, and a clear homage to action flicks gone by. You know that when the final credits roll, everything wrong will be set right. In short, a fun way to spend a couple hours.
The DVD itself, housed in a cardboard sleeve, comes pretty packed with extra features. The extras include a five-part “Making Of” featurette, a look back at the first meeting between Austin and Vinnie Jones, storyboards, “Stone Cold at Movie World,” and cast and crew audio commentary. I just want to add that if you opt to pick up this movie on Blu-ray disc, it features all the same mastered in 1080P High Definition and features 7.1 DTS HD Audio. There’s also an insert inside for WWE merchandise focused, of course, on Stone Cold Steve Austin. The audio and video are top notch for a standard DVD release, with every gunshot and explosion coming out loud and clear, though sometimes the dialogue can sound a bit muddled.
Overall, if you’re a fan of action movies and our titular wrestling star, then I’d Recommend this movie, at least for a rental. The extras help round out a pretty solid package. The Condemned is a straight-up action movie. It’s fun and mindless with some pretty great action sequences spread throughout. It’s not trying to be something it’s not, just two hours of our underdog hero trying to overcome some pretty crazy obstacles. It’s a manly man’s movie, no question. Lovers of B-movie fare will definitely get a kick out of this.
The Condemned is now available on DVD. The Condemned is distributed through Maple Pictures in Canada, Lionsgate in the USA.