As the first bigscreen starring vehicle for World Wrestling Entertainment star "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, "The Condemned" offers yet another reheating of "The Most Dangerous Game," distinguished only by an already stale reality angle and some of the thickest necks in showbiz. Pic aims for nonstop thrill ride, but for all its brainless brawn, it has plenty of stops and few real thrills. In line with that of prior WWE feature productions, hardtop biz is likely to be modest, with core auds checking in en masse once it's available as a slow night's rental.
As the first bigscreen starring vehicle for World Wrestling Entertainment star “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, “The Condemned” offers yet another reheating of “The Most Dangerous Game,” distinguished only by an already stale reality angle and some of the thickest necks in showbiz. Pic aims for nonstop thrill ride, but for all its brainless brawn, it has plenty of stops and few real thrills. In line with that of prior WWE feature productions, hardtop biz is likely to be modest, with core auds checking in en masse once it’s available as a slow night’s rental.
Young Turk media tycoon Ian Breckel (Robert Mammone) has hit on a must-see-TV concept too hot for actual nets: dropping 10 death-row inmates from Third World prisons on a remote island, where only the last one alive will gain freedom and a fat purse. For the sake of a “good show,” they are heavily encouraged to kill each other. If they fail to do so, after 30 hours, their explosive-rigged ankle bracelets will kill them anyway.
Needless to say, the top-secret location (in Papua New Guinea, though Australia’s Gold Coast actually plays the part) has been covered with vidcams to capture the “action,” which will stream live over the Internetat $49.99 per “subscriber.” Breckel expects to exceed the Super Bowl’s roughly 40 million annual viewers.
Ensconced in their compound on one side of the isle — well away from the killers, though naturally not for long — are Breckel and his crew. Most are as giddily conscience-free as he is, though his girlfriend (Victoria Mussett) and tech director Goldman (Rick Hoffman) do grow sickened by the “live snuff film” he’s orchestrated.
He justifies this cynical spectacle by calling the contestants torturers, murderers, rapists and terrorists who were due for execution anyway. But their backstories are noted so fleetingly it’s impossible to absorb more than the fact that some appear clearly crazy and/or malevolent, while a few seem to be sympathetic victims of injustice. Chief among the latter are young Mexican spouses Paco and Rosa (Manu Bennett and Dasi Ruz); Kreston (Marcus Johnson), a drug dealer arrested in Malaysia; and Conrad (Austin), a redneck sprung from a Central American hellhole where he was doing time on murky charges.
Several hasty alliances are created, the most merciless between martial-arts killing machine Saiga (Masa Yamaguchi) and disgraced ex-Brit Special Forces roughneck McStarley (Vinnie Jones).
Time that would have been better spent developing atmosphere and suspense on the island is instead expended on gratuitous Stateside scenes with FBI investigators and Conrad’s worried single-mom g.f. (Madeleine West). There is some nastiness (unfortunately visited on the most likeable characters), not much gore (the R rating seems primarily due to cursing) and a lot of bombast. Publicity makes much of the film’s eschewing CGI; digital fakery has become so omnipresent that it’s refreshing to see action (like Zoe Bell’s carhood-clinging stunts in Quentin Tarantino’s “Death Proof”) that is palpably, humanly possible. But helmer/co-scenarist Scott Wiper (“A Better Way to Die”) blows that advantage by shooting all such segments in handheld jerky-cam shots that swing wilder than the protags’ punches, making everything a fast-cut blur of motion.
Chrome-domed Austin (even his noggin looks like a bulging muscle) gives a glowering, one-note wrestling-machismo performance, barking lines that seldom stray from “F-you” terrain. Jones’ soccer-hooligan act has been amusingly over-the-top before (notably in “EuroTrip” and two Guy Ritchie pics), but as a more conventional villain here, he’s just OK. Other fighters are pretty much limited to making a visual impression, Yamaguchi and Bennett faring best; if the charismatic latter were the lead here, there’d be a lot more to root for.
Pic could use more humor, though it does have scattered unintentional laughs, particularly one late, solemnly admonishing speech about how those producing entertainment need to take responsibility for glorifying violence. Given the film’s premise and WWE imprint, one might hope the filmmakers are having an ironic laugh, but no such self-awareness evinces itself in the script or direction.
Tech aspects are solid enough.