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The Condemned
cast: : Steve Austin, Vinnie Jones, Robert Mammone, Nathan Jones, and Rick Hoffman

director: Scott Wiper

109 minutes (18) 2007
widescreen ratio 16:9
Lions Gate DVD Region 2 retail
[released 24 March]

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Alasdair Stuart
Breckel (Robert Mammone) is a millionaire with a vision; the ultimate reality show, streamed live across the Internet. Ten death-row inmates from across the world, wired with explosive shackles, dropped onto an abandoned island and given a choice; hide and die, or fight and if they're the last one standing then they'll be given a small fortune and a reprieve. For some, it's a snuff film, for Breckel, it's the future of entertainment. But for Jack Conrad (Steve Austin), an American held in a Salvadorian prison, it's the last chance.

WWE Films have not had a good run of luck. See No Evil, an old fashioned horror movie starring Kane, alias Glen Jacobs, did well on DVD but was critically panned whilst The Marine, starring John Cena and Robert Patrick fared slightly better. However, this, their third offering was critically panned, a financial disaster and has consistently placed in worst movie polls since its release.

Which, frankly, is a bit of a shame because whilst this is pretty derivative, it's perfectly competent filmmaking. Anyone who's seen Battle Royale is going to find the entire premise incredibly familiar and that's even before you get to the likes of Ice T vehicle Surviving The Game, the original short story The Most Dangerous Game or any one of a dozen takes on the human-hunting story.

That being said, there are actually two separate plots here... The first follows Conrad and the other nine victims as they fight in an increasingly brutal series of duels. The film, pointedly, pulls no punches here and there's one sequence in particular, where McStarley, played by Vinnie Jones, beats and rapes Rosa (Dasi Ruz) whilst the production team watch. In many ways it's similar to the ear-cutting scene in Reservoir Dogs, you see very little, but there's no doubt what's going on.

This sequence, arguably, is the point at which some people will write the film off as exploitative garbage and others may see something else going on. The attack is framed from the point of view of the production team, several of which (including character-actor stalwart Rick Hoffman) are increasingly repulsed and horrified by what they're seeing. It's the point where the game stops being a job and starts being something morally repugnant for them, and also the moment where viewers will decide exactly what sort of film this is. In short, it's a genuinely meta-textual sequence that can be read any number of ways. Which, if you're feeling snippy, is pretty impressive for a WWE production.

That second plot gives the film some much needed grounding and lifts it, for some viewers at least, above the standard action fare. However, there's a lot for action fans to enjoy here too, with Austin in particular proving a surprisingly effective and personable lead. Jack Conrad is a monosyllabic figure but one with a surprisingly pragmatic view, and his attempts to reason with the Russian (Jones) and the brief phone call he's able to make off the island to his girlfriend give the character a welcome vulnerability and jet-black sense of humour. It also helps raise the tension with Conrad himself clearly unsure whether he's going to live through the game.

Vinnie Jones as McStarley does exactly what's required of him, and, somehow, manages to give the utterly reprehensible ex-SAS trooper a modicum of intelligence. There's a real sense of danger to him and the three-way fight between McStarley, Conrad and Saiga is one of the film's highlights. However, of the rest of the cast the real standout is Mammone as the plausible and sociopathic Breckel. His burning desire to make the game bigger than the Superbowl, and his production team's gradual transition from enthusiasm to queasy realisation of what they're doing makes for fascinating viewing.

The Condemned is going to split audiences down the middle. There's a lot to be said for it being an intelligent comment on action movies and Internet voyeurism, and there's just as much to be said for it being a repulsive dinosaur of misogyny and brutality. Which film you see is up to you, but in the end, just like the viewers of the game, you'll find it very hard to look away.
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