The Condemned: Austin's Powers
Ten people will fight. 9 people will die. You get to watch. So proclaims the poster for The Condemned, a movie executive-produced by World Wrestling Entertainment owner Vince McMahon, and starring self-professed whup-ass machine Stone Cold Steve Austin and oft-suspended former soccer star Vinnie Jones. So can someone explain where this movie gets off lecturing its audience about how awful they are for enjoying violence in entertainment? McMahons no dummy he has to know that the movies main villain, a greedy entertainment promoter named Breckel (Robert Mammone), sounds awfully familiar when he defends his product by saying that it isnt marketed to children, or that hes just giving the public what they want. You dont have to agree that onscreen violence is inherently bad to be offended by the hypocrisy.
One of WWEs real-life defenses is that they never feature murder in their storylines, which is technically true, although they have featured attempted vehicular homicide, necrophilia, immersion in liquid concrete, buried alive matches, heart attacks during sex, grave desecration, and wrestler Al Snow secretly being fed the cooked remains of his kidnapped pet Chihuahua. But no actual killing, save the accidental death of Owen Hart a few years ago. So thats the distinction. Here, Breckel has gathered 10 death-row inmates from around the world to kill one another on an island rigged with cameras. Just like in Kinji Fukasakus Battle Royale, all contestants are strapped with explosives that will detonate if they dont participate; and after 30 hours, only one will be left alive.
Its no surprise that lost in all the movies moralizing about the dangers of violent entertainment is any commentary on the morality of the death penalty itself other than when Breckel says that at least his way will allow one of the 10 to live. (He has a point.) I guess director Scott Wiper opts out of the debate by having his inmates come from foreign prisons.
Meanwhile, before the movie hops up on its high horse, we do get several cool battles involving the likes of Texan redneck Jack Conrad (Austin), ex-SAS sadist McStarley (Jones), crazed martial artist Saiga (Masa Yamaguchi) and a 7-foot Soviet (Nathan Jones, who briefly had his own WWE stint before realizing that big-screen henchman roles are more lucrative and less punishing). Unlike The Rock, who did his trademark eyebrow-raise in The Scorpion King, or Kane, who utilized the chokeslam in See No Evil, Austin doesnt wink at his audience with any signature moves. Granted, the Stone Cold Stunner wouldnt be the most effective jungle-combat move, but its a shame Austin doesnt get to flip the bird at least once.
Audiences are cued to cheer along with the corrupt promoters for the Mortal Kombatstyle fatalities that ensue, but the line is apparently crossed when McStarley and Saiga kick the crap out of a woman and enjoy it. If you enjoy it too, well, youre a sick puppy, says The Condemned. Born-again Vince must have forgotten the time when the Dudley Boyz slammed 80-year-old Mae Young through a wooden table, to the cheers of an adoring fan base.
But flaws, double standards, strange detours (cutaways to FBI headquarters or Conrads girlfriend, who lives on a farm) and all, this is still the most entertaining WWE release to date. Hostels Rick Hoffman, doing his fast-talking shtick, is great as a controller with a crisis of conscience. And we already know from TV and from his standout turn as a racist guard in The Longest Yard that Austin can act; in the second half of the film, when he finally loses his temper and gets down to the business of revenge, Stone Cold really heats up the screen. Dont feel guilty for enjoying the violence. Just thank Vince.
THE CONDEMNED | Directed by SCOTT WIPER | Written by WIPER and ROB HEDDEN, from a story by ROB HEDDEN, ANDY HEDDEN and WIPER | Produced by JOEL SIMON | Released by Lionsgate | Citywide
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Click here to read Luke Y. Thompson's interview with Steve Austin.
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