The Condemned (2007) — Beefcake boring royale

“McStarley’s back! This is gonna be gnarly!”

Al’s rating: Alan 3:16 says Save Your Money.

Al’s review: A movie like The Condemned is, I think, the most disappointing kind of action movie. For starters, it has a good premise — an unoriginal premise, to be sure, but still a good one. It has a major star in Stone Cold Steve Austin, who has already proven to be full of charisma on a live stage and is positively humming with the potential to fill the Action Hero void that’s been lingering in Hollywood for so long. It also has backing by Vince McMahon, a man that I will hate forever for destroying the relatively harmless brand of pro wrestling that I grew up with in favor of “WWF Attitude,” but nevertheless can be a masterful storyteller and has no moral compunction about scaling back the violence ‘for the children.’ So, when all that is handed to you giftwrapped in such a nice little package, it becomes all the more frustrating to see it fall on its nose this unspectacularly.

Honestly, that’s pretty much the best word I could use to sum up The Condemned: Unspectacular. I shouldn’t be disappointed, I know. Most sane folks weren’t expecting too much. I just couldn’t help but hope that this would turn out to be a gem of a film that flew under everyone else’s radar, or at least something so hilariously bad that it would still have been worth the slot on my Netflix queue. Instead, we get a movie that tries its hardest to move beyond the mindless action it could have gleefully delivered in order to moralize about causes and consequences of violence on TV. Sadly, it just isn’t good enough to be profound and really ends up taking itself too seriously to be any fun to watch.

Our hero in The Condemned is Jack Conrad (Steve Austin), a last-minute replacement in an illegal reality TV show where criminals with life sentences are dropped on a desert island and fight to the death in exchange for their freedom. But, unbeknownst to the producers (though knownst to us because every single one of these movies has the exact same plot), Jack is actually an undercover-Special-Forces-black-ops marine who is highly trained in stealth combat but was disowned by the US government upon his capture three years ago. So now he’s fighting for his life against an assortment of thieves, killers, rapists, Vinnie Joneses, ruffians, scallywags, and miscellaneous nogoodniks while attempting to bring the whole game down from the inside.

As is probably best, Conrad speaks very little and spends a lot of time in cinematically convenient shadows. I have to assume the film was intending Stone Cold to be an Eastwood-style silent hero, but all of Austin’s charisma and energy absolutely evaporate onscreen and instead he just looks constipated and bored. Rick Hoffman does a good job as Goldman, the increasingly reluctant second-in-command of the program, and Robert Mammone is hateable enough as Ian Breckel, the brainchild and bankroller of the show. The rest of the cast, a generic assortment of criminals (husband + wife team, white supremacist guy, feisty black chick, Asian karate dude) and nerdball techies, are just varying degrees of passable.

Of course, when the ‘movie’ part of an ‘action movie’ is failing, you can always fall back on the ‘action’ part, right? Right? The Condemned has its share of action, to be sure, but it’s so brutal, ugly, and mean that it barely qualifies as entertainment. The fights are poorly staged and poorly filmed in an attempt to come off as realistic, but instead just insures that nothing translates into anything that will get your adrenaline up and some of the violence — in particular, a rape scene of one of the women — is simply uncomfortable. As I mentioned, it’s done intentionally by the filmmakers to deliver a message about violence and reality TV (that, frankly, is about half a decade too late to be relevant or original), but it’s all obscured if not outright lost in murky filmmaking, subpar acting, and an execution that is just generally lousy.

I wanted to like The Condemned, enough so that I almost saw it in the theater, but there’s really very little here to like. It goes through all the motions and hits all the beats of the same junk we’ve been watching in various forms since Battle of the Network Stars, but it’s really just an empty film. In fact, I called this movie unremarkable at the top of this review, but I think I’m going to retract that. I wish I could say it’s unremarkable. This is just bad.

Didja Notice?

  • Conrad feeding the rats in his cell? Proof positive that Stone Cold cares.
  • Those sunglasses only seem to exist so Saiga can take them off in the very next scene?
  • I actually kinda enjoyed the Black Betty cover they do here.
  • The techie in the ballcap and glasses is pretty cute, in a morally bankrupt ice-queen sort of way.
  • The duct tape? Are there any problems it can’t solve?
  • These movies always have a big scary guy who is set up to die immediately? I always try and root for him, the poor sap.
  • How goofy Vinnie Jones looks with a bow and arrow?

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