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In the increasingly voyeuristic world of reality TV, a wealthy media mogul creates the Condemned, a survival-of-the-fittest game in which ten contestants purchased from maximum security prisons around the world are placed on a desert island to take place in a grisly battle to be the last man standing, thus earning freedom. Among these contestants is Jack Conrad ('Stone Cold' Steve Austin), who has other ideas on how the game will be won. However, will ex-SAS man McStarley (Vinnie Jones) let Conrad do that?
 
Condemned, The

Feature


In principal, having World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) moving from the ring to produce action filmmaking should be a licence to print money. Established weekly stars of the square circle are larger than life, both in stature and personality, and should comfortably fill the gap left by their contemporaries from the 80s and 90s, such as Stallone and Schwarzenegger. However, for some reason, it hasn't worked out like this at all.
 
The main problem is the films. After the surprisingly entertaining Welcome to the Jungle (AKA The Rundown) starring the Rock, an impressive action throwback directed by an on-form Peter Berg ( Hancock, The Kingdom), the films became poorer in quality, such as the insultingly simplistic The Marine and bland Saw meets Friday the 13th horror of See No Evil.

Condemned, The
The flaw of these films was that they were quite simply ill-fitting of their stars, resulting in a flawed vehicle. There was also a distinct lack of polish in the scripts of those latter WWE films that suggest that films were pushed into production quickly to fit around gaps in their stars' wrestling schedule.

And then there are the stars. I defy anybody who loves the action genre to not accept the Rock as a successor to Sly and Arnie. The man has charisma to spare, and can carry himself well acting-wise. On the other hand, we have John Cena ( The Marine), whose acting was so flat and bland, it makes you wonder why we all moaned about Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren's acting skills in the '90s. Both Austin and The Condemned sit firmly in the middle.

Condemned, The
As an action star, Austin plays it wise. Knowing that monologues were never going to be well received, he plays it strong and silent, and it helps him no end. The man also has a ball with deadpan one-liners that mark him out as a potential regular star in the WWE movies. It also helps that Vinnie Jones plays against him quite well, and again should pursue the villain role more often. He's better when he's one note.

The film itself has loftier aims than the usual wrestling vehicle. Coming across as a hybrid of Running Man, Battle Royale and Surviving the Game, director Scott Wiper forgoes the gloss of earlier WWE films and gives us a surprisingly gritty look and feel. Cinematography is harsh and intentionally messy, and fight scenes are commendably raw in style. Occasionally this jars, and it must be noted that the Saving Private Ryan style of action cinematography is not really suitable for fist fights. The action itself is more brutal than choreographed, and again a surprise from the WWE style of precise choreography. In fact, the style and tone of the action brings to mind a less gory Rambo (2008). However, this tone throws up problems with the film's concept.
 
Condemned, The
This is quite possibly the most schizophrenic film I have ever seen. The message is purely post-millennial, commenting heavily against the rise of voyeurism in reality TV and the desensitisation of violence in the media, which would be fine if only it hadn't been tacked onto an 80s throwback action movie. When a film is sold as an action movie, proceeds to give you an action movie, and then criticises you throughout for getting off on the violence, it comes across as downright hypocritical, particularly when we're supposed to cheer as the good guy murders the baddies. A subtle suggestion of these themes is fine, but having characters throw up at the brutality of these fights (the same fights that they show in The Condemned movie trailer to sell the movie) ram the message down the viewer's throat. The most galling aspect of the film is that this 'message' is brought to you by WWE, the company which sells men punching each other in the face on a nightly basis to kids. May I also be so bold as to suggest that if kids are a part of the audience that you are aiming for, a rape scene (off camera, but still) may not particularly be a good idea?

It's still not a bad film. If you are looking for a film that action fans complain that 'they don't make anymore', this is pretty close. The action is solid and gripping, the tone is far more adult than the usual WWE fare, and it moves like a bullet. What action fans won't like is the PC finger-pointing.

Condemned, The

Video


Lionsgate deliver a very solid transfer with this one. It handles the down and dirty nature of the film impressively, playing well with the grit of the film without lapsing too far into grain. Night scenes are handled well, and on the whole the movie looks slick.

Audio


Equally as impressive is the Dolby Digital 5.1 EX on offer. The mix really thumps, especially during the fight scenes, and the whole thing thunders along nicely. A textbook action mix for what should have been a textbook actioner.

Condemned, The

Extras


Again, surprisingly weighty for what is essentially a DTV movie (in the UK at least). Firstly we have a better than expected making of, split into five parts and far better than the usual EPKs for this type of title. Next up is also a couple of WWE puff pieces that usually work their way into these DVDs, but at least Austin comes across well in them, and seems as straight-up and down to earth as he is sold as by his bosses. Also recommended is Vinnie Jones embarrassing himself onstage at a wrestling event. Commentaries are fine, but the director comes across as a little earnest, and not able to spread himself across two separate talk tracks. However, again Austin helps fill in the blanks in the joint commentary, making it the lighter of the two.

Condemned, The

Overall


Although the film is entertaining as a pure old school action film, and I would watch it again, there is an overwhelming element of finger-pointing at the audience that technically makes it a 'message' movie, and unfortunately both elements cancel each other out. Which is a shame, because the disc is an hardcore action fan's dream. Overall, a cautious buy, but a definite rent.


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