"It made me long for the subtle artistry of ‘The Scorpion King.’"
I’m willing to forgive a lot of things in action movies. Bad dialogue, wooden acting and moral hypocrisy can all be excused if the fight scenes are sufficiently exciting. The latest movie from World Wrestling Entertainment mogul Vince McMahon, “The Condemned,” has all the vices one would expect. But there’s not a moment of pleasure to be had. Sitting through this fiasco is almost as unpleasant as the predicament the title characters face.The plot involves a shallow, opportunistic media entrepreneur named Ian Breckel (Robert Mammone) who will do anything for ratings. Sounds sort of like McMahon, doesn’t it?
With the help of some technical gurus, Breckel has engineered a webcast that makes an episode of “Survivor” seem life affirming.
Ten death row convicts have been sent to a remote island to compete for their freedom and a cash prize. The down side to the arrangement is that the crooks can’t merely vote each other off the island. They are each required to kill the others if time bombs chained to their legs don’t do the job first.
The setup is problematic (which psycho-killer will YOU cheer for?), but in the hands of more able filmmakers, “The Condemned” could have been as gleeful as it was guilt-inducing.
The Japanese cult classic “Battle Royale” has a nearly identical plotline but is entertaining because director Kinji Fukasaku offered likable characters and delightfully sharp wit to balance the squeamish subject matter.
No such luck here. When Jack Conrad (wrestler “Stone Cold” Steve Austin) informs a producer that he hails from an Alaskan village called “Fuckyourmother,” that’s about as clever as “The Condemned” gets. It took three screenwriters, including director Scott Wiper, to come up with that zinger.
Austin’s awkwardness in front of the camera doesn’t help. Unable to convey any emotion other than stoic determination, Austin scores the film’s biggest unintentional laughs when he tries to show Jack’s softer side.
The rest of the cast doesn’t appear to be trying. The sole exception is former soccer player Vinnie Jones, who plays the meanest of the contestants. Jones projects almost enough menacing charm to make the homicidal rapist he plays engaging.
If Wiper had been smart enough to let Austin be “Stone Cold,” the movie might have worked. But Wiper directs as badly as he writes. Whenever the contestants fight, Wiper shoots using a “Blair Witch” technique that makes impossible to determine or care who is winning.
Most of the battles end in explosions, shaky camera work, and jigsaw editing. Jones and Austin are both solid athletes so the hand-to-hand combat should have been more than a few quick cuts.
Wiper loses the audience for good when he has some of his supporting characters give long speeches that thrash the contest before showing additional fights. Fukasaku wisely figured out that his audience was both intelligent and upright enough to figure that out for themselves.Wiper, on the other hand, thinks that his viewers are stupid or is a little dim himself. I’d hate to think which of these possibilities is correct.