-MONTHLY FILM & TV REVIEW-
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]
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
Which, frankly, is a bit of a shame because whilst this is pretty derivative, it's perfectly
competent filmmaking. Anyone who's seen
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
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.