Condemned, The (US - DVD R1)
Gabe could have sworn he already saw this movie, only without the wrestler...
Joe Conrad (Stone Cold Steve Austin) is a mysterious man awaiting the death penalty in a corrupt Central American prison (is there any other kind?). 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, with freedom going to the sole survivor.
Professional wrestling, the pseudo-sport, isn’t really my thing, and hasn’t been since I was about nine years old. I don’t really get the whole ‘grown men watching other grown men in underwear fake fighting’ thing, but I still watch cartoons on a regular basis and giddily cheer at a well executed gore effect, so I am not one to judge. I do enjoy watching a fake fight when it’s augmented with special effects, music, and perfect camera angles, so watching a movie starring a big buff pro wrestler fake fight on the big screen is definitely not below me. These guys are tailor made for medium budget action spectaculars, the kind Van Damme and Seagal use to make before the world forgot about them. I don’t fully support the WWE, but I fully support them starting a movie line… so long as I don’t have to watch them.
The Condemned is a really bad movie, even on its lowbrow terms. The formula could have worked broadly on concept with just a couple additions. We’ve got a bunch of perfect two-dimensional villains (what can I say, I still like Vinnie Jones), but our lead hero has absolutely zero charisma. Stone Cold Steve Austin may look the part, and he may have the physical abilities, and he may have the built in audience to sell the part, but he’s no Clint Eastwood, Arnold Swarzenegger or Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. He’s not even a Hulk Hogan. Hell, even Andre the Giant was more charming than this guy, and I couldn’t understand a word he said. With a better lead the next step would’ve been getting at least one writer with a sense of humour on staff. The film’s tone is ridiculously downbeat without any sense of irony or outrage.
Problemo numero uno, however, is the fact that The Condemned is based (whether the filmmakers admit it or not) on two better films, and it’s not hard to compare. Most obvious to American viewers are the parallels to Arnie Swartzenegger’s Running Man (which all us Lucio Fulci fans know came after New Gladiators), from which The Condemned takes its many anti-conglomerate media cues. The more interesting source of encouragement comes from Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale. The Running Man stuff works because the trope has been nuzzled in the collective subconscious for decades, and because Running Man was a tongue-in-cheek motion picture. Comparing the film to Battle Royale doesn’t go so well, because Fukasaku’s film is everything this one isn’t—dramatic, suspenseful, shocking, potent, subtle when needed, and clever beyond all sense. Most importantly, Battle Royale has something to say about humanity, society, and violence.
Every time The Condemned tries to develop a conscience, I can’t help but roll my eyes until I’m dizzy. These hands are really heavy. Picture Manute Bol’s hands on Shirley Temple’s body and you’re about half way there. Sometimes a movie really needs to know its place to succeed, and filmmakers that mistake amateur for maverick often squander patience. The Running Man is great because it makes its political and social points with a wink. The Condemned sucks because it tries to pull dramatic substance from a silly action film, as if the MPAA were standing by with a calculator insuring that there were at least three denouncements of violence for every five cheers for more blood. Most unfortunately these awkward stabs at humanity aren’t even unintentionally funny, they’re just painful, and there are a lot of them. And there are plot holes.
It may suck, but The Condemned looks pretty good. There’s nothing original about Scott Wiper’s vision, but he has the wherewithal to get it on screen. According to our friends at imdb.com the film was made with HD cameras, and it shows even on this non-HD transfer. Skin tones are eerily consistent and clean, black levels are as deep as my set would allow, and the lush green of the island forest pop right out of the screen. Details are crystal clear without any edge enhancement, even during darkly lit sequences. I can find plenty of bad things to say about the movie itself, but there’s nothing wrong with this transfer except maybe a little compression noise. Unfortunately, Wiper is so dependent on 'shaky-cam' that it was almost impossible to get a decent screen grab of any action.
Somewhere there’s a rulebook that wrongly informs young filmmakers that bad scripting can be covered up with a lot of noise. The Condemned is a very loud movie, from its ridiculously boisterous body blows, to its awful, popular music soundtrack (The Prodigy’s ‘Firestarter’ is a quick way to date your film). The bass levels are very high, a little too high for the other volume levels. It’s impressive and furious and all, but it drowns out the other channels even at relatively low volume levels (or at least it did on my system). As long as the bass isn’t overpowering everything the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix it sounds very clear, and the surround channels are quite lively.
Scott Wiper gets to talk on two commentary tracks, one all alone, and another with Austin. Wiper is slightly obnoxious, and talks about the film as if it were approaching the pinnacle of the art form. He is, however, well prepared for the track, remembers the names of every person on set, and does a pretty good job keeping the silence filled. Austin is a surprisingly consistent commentator, and his candour and general intelligence is charming, much more charming than his acting. Wiper acts as a moderator on Austin’s track and is good at keeping him on track. Note: not a single mention of Battle Royale on two tracks.
The making-of featurette is divided into five parts, totalling around forty minutes, and covering the script, actors, director, effects, and fight choreography. It’s all informative, but the people involved are a little smug about their modest achievements. I know making movies isn’t as easy as it looks, but it’s not that bad. You aren’t the first people to film in a real jungle, or the first people to try to reinvent analogue action for the digital age. There’s so much back patting that you can almost feel the bruises, and nary and iota of modesty in sight.
‘Capital Carnage Reunion’ is a look back at a British WWE match featuring Vinnie Jones and Steve Austin in 1998. I had no idea such a thing had even occurred, but readily admit it’s all quite amusing. Basically the event is shown on a PC to the big boys, who laugh and give us a little behind the scenes insight. It only lasts about three minutes.
‘Stone Cold at Movie World’ is a minute and a half footage from an autograph signing in Australia during the filming of the movie. I’d love to be a fly on the wall when these good-natured Aussies got their first glimpse at such an un-WWE like feature. This is followed by a storyboard comparison, a trailer, and trailers for other LionsGate releases.
I don’t know who this film is made for. It’s too mopey for WWE and action flick fans, and it’s too tactless and stupid for the kinds of people that attend message movies. It’s pointlessly preachy and uncomfortable in its own skin. Steve Austin’s Conrad is too boring and goodie-goodie to compete with the likes of more recent action heroes like Crank’s Chev Chelios or Shoot ‘Em Up’s Smith (both much better silly action films). The Condemned is a flick that is dated in all the wrong ways, and has nothing to say about anything. It make’s Eli Roth’s Hostel films look like the most important statement on film violence in motion picture history.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 18th September 2007
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Extras: Director Commentary, Director/Actor Commentary, Behind the Scenes, Capital Carnage Reunion, Stone Cold at Movie World, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Scott Wiper
Cast: Steve Austin, Vinnie Jones, Rick Hoffman, Robert Mammone, Tory Mussett
Length: 113 minutes
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