a critiQal film review The Condemned (2007)

Plot: Jack Conrad (Austin) is awaiting the death penalty in a corrupt Central American prison when he is “purchased” by a wealthy television producer and taken to a desolate island where he must fight to the death against nine other condemned killers from all corners of the world...and the entire contest will be broadcast live on the internet.

956 words (Est. Reading Time 4m 46s)

Known for helping WWE reach it’s most popular point to date, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin is an icon to wrestling fans. But, while The Rock has gone on to a successful movie career, for a while it looked like “Stone Cold” would do nothing but bit parts in films (The Longest Yard (2005)) and TV shows (“Nash Bridges” (TV)). Then, word leaked that he had signed a 3-picture deal with the newly formed WWE Films, and fans couldn’t wait to see him step it up on the big screen with the first picture, The Condemned.

With The Condemned, he finally takes a starring film role – and fans will not be disappointed. Austin manages to bring the same energy and kick butt attitude that fans expect from him, and translates it extremely well onto the big screen. While The Condemned does have a few drawbacks, it’s through no fault of his. He gets in touch with his character, and manages to bring out the heart of the character without really saying much – it’s just a glint in his eye, or a quirk of a smile that brings it home to the viewers.

With “Stone Cold” being a newcomer on the scene, he needed someone talented to go up against, who could be convincingly evil enough to make Austin look good – and Vinnie Jones is a perfect choice. He’s an impressive actor in his own right, and even given the shallowness of his character, he manages to bring something extra to the role to make his character a guy the viewer will love to hate. He seems right at home in The Condemned, going about his business with a cold glee that’s a bit unnerving, until the viewer can’t wait for “Stone Cold” to show up and win the day.

The supporting cast is largely there for these two to pick off in The Condemned, with only a few exceptions. Rick Hoffman, fitting perfectly into his role as a computer geek who gets an attack of conscience, and Masa Yamaguchi, who holds his own on screen, even though he barely speaks a word of English throughout the entire film.

On the other hand, Robert Mammone, as the evil producer who puts together the whole show, is a bit of a disappointment. The viewer never questions whether he’s going to be bad or good – his attitude makes it clear right from the start. As he progressively gets worse throughout The Condemned, the viewer isn’t surprised in the least by any of his actions, no matter what he does. He becomes a cardboard cutout of a character, playing his part with a predictability that is extremely unwelcome and unsatisfying.

The Condemned also tosses in an ex-WWE wrestler for “Stone Cold” Steve Austin to go up against: Nathan Jones, who is starting to pop up all over the place in bit parts in films. His giant stature and muscular build make him a good foe for any hero…although he apparently doesn’t have the acting skills to take it to the next level.

While the filmmakers try to interject a bit of social commentary on the possible future of reality TV, they tend to keep focused on their main goal: making an action film. The fight scenes are decent enough, and, as The Condemned progresses, a sub plot fills out the hero’s background a bit more. So far so good – and then comes the dialogue. While the dialogue does include a few memorable one-liners uttered by the hero (“Let’s dance”, “Game On”), even those are incredibly cliched.

And, maybe it’s just me, but it’s annoying when a few of the characters in a movie like The Condemned are talking in another language, and there aren’t subtitles. While that dialogue may not be vital to the film, it’s still a bit annoying to be disconnected from the film like that.

While the commentary on the possibility that this could happen in real-life is interesting, it’s blatant push into the viewer’s mind near the end of The Condemned leaves a bit to be desired…especially because it doesn’t fit with the scene. The viewers in that particular scene are watching this “live Internet show” a.) on a television (which could be explained away – after all, you can connect a computer to a TV) and b.) suddenly a reporter is on-screen commenting that “aren’t we the condemned?”

How did she suddenly show up on this live Internet feed? If she isn’t on the feed, and the Internet feed is being rebroadcast on her program (which is another possibility), isn’t she being a bit hypocritical in her condemnation of the feed? While the TV screen bit is easily overlooked (and/or easily explained away), why did they suddenly toss in her interview? Because it didn’t fit anywhere else in the film? How about at the end, when the bad guys are defeated and before the epilogue…just show a bit of her interview with the producer then, and let her convey her message more clearly…say on a display of TV screens in a store window? That would have made a lot more sense…and wouldn’t have caused viewers to reject the message as easily.

The Condemned aims for interjecting a bit of social commentary on the possible future for reality TV, but at it’s base it’s an action film, plain and simple. It’s brutal, it’s violent – and it keeps the adrenaline pumping. Definitely the most impressive starring debut of a wrestler since The Rock’s The Scorpion King (2002). Old school fans of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin will be impressed, and he’s sure to attract a few more with this film.

Now, the only question is, what will “Stone Cold” do next?

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