Hey, everyone. ”Moriarty” here. Please be big stupid fun. Please? Memflix, who’s been contributing reviews to us for a little while now, seems to think it’s actually better than just big stupid fun. Check it out.
Memflix here once again with a look at The Condemned, which opens April 27th. The WWE produced this film which stars wrestler Steve “Stone Cold” Austin. I walked into the screener expecting the worst. The WWE has produced some pretty merit-less films. I was expecting dumb fun, a few cool fight scenes, and horrible writing. I was blown away to find a socially relevant, well-choreographed action film. Ten convicted killers are thrown together on an island. It is a mix of No Escape, Surviving the Game, Battle Royale, and plenty of others. The ten were on death row in foreign countries. A media mogul, not unlike a certain Survivor creator, pays of prison wardens to get these men and women to compete in his televised contest. He and his crew have wired the island with cameras and audio equipment. The 10 have 30 hours to be the last one standing. The winner gets freedom and cash. The goal of the game is simple, don’t get killed and kill as many people as possible. Alliances are made and people are betrayed. The show is broadcast on the internet. The audience pays 49.95. For that, they can see murder up close and personal. The main character is played by Austin, who (of course) isn’t what he seems. He isn’t the murderer he is made out to be. All he wants to do is go home and not kill anyone in the process. As you can imagine his last goal isn’t fulfilled. The other 9 consist of a married couple, a gigantic behemoth of a man, 2 African Americans, a Japanese kung-fu nut job, and a mercenary psychopath played by Vinnie Jones. There are four main forces in the film. There’s the Control Room, where the mogul and his crew spy on the contestants, the FBI, who are (sort of) trying to find the island, and Austin ’s family back home. I bring this up because I was surprised at how this set-up didn’t back fire and become a convoluted mess. The story and structure works. There are 3 main villains in the movie. One is the egotistical media mogul with a God complex. The second is Vinnie Jones who seems to be the only convict enjoying all of this and the third is the most surprising of them all, but I’ll get into that later. As far as acting goes, there are no surprises. It isn’t horrible and it isn’t great. It’s just what you’d expect. Steve Austin is a badass. Vinnie Jones plays Vinnie Jones. A character that stands out is the show’s operations manager. He is played by character actor, Rick Hoffman. He was the American in Hostel, and pops up on television. He has a natural ability to be sleazy and hilarious in the same breathe. He is allowed to do more here other than his usual ‘asshole’ role. There is a certain innate, relatable, humanistic quality he brings, that tries to remind the audience of how horrible this situation truly is. I mentioned social relevance earlier. That might have turned an eyebrow or too, especially since I didn’t say ‘tries to be socially relevant.’ Folks, it has been said before and I’m going to say it again- one day there will be an actual show like this. It won’t be stylized. There won’t be badasses. There won’t be cool looking explosions. It will be nasty, depraved, horrifying and people will watch. They will flock to see the real deal. People’s appetite for violence is growing. People want to see torture. They want to see depravity. Why? Don’t know for sure. Survivor’s ratings are plummeting. The audience no longer thinks malnutrition, constipation, and cuts and bruises are entertaining. They want something more. They want something like this. People want to watch hardcore shit happening to real people. The Condemned wasn’t trying to be realistic. It is an action film first and a social commentary second. It doesn’t go overboard with the second. It isn’t exactly subtle, but it doesn’t club you over the head either. SPOILER!- Vinnie Jones and the Martial Arts nut job make an alliance. They make it their mission to hunt down the others, kill them, and enjoy it. They come upon the married couple. They tie up the man and rape and kill the wife in front of him. This happens in the first half of the movie and is the point where you realize can see a message unfolding. The rape is mostly off screen, and the emphasis is on the husband’s misery as he watches his beloved be ravaged to death. The second focus of this piece is the Control Room. The mogul is very pleased that this is being streamed to millions of computer screens. There are a few crew members upset, including Hoffman, but when they realize that they are the ones responsible, they see these people for who they are; human beings. They may be convicted killers, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are one of them. They eat. They breathe. They shit. They are humans. The way the reaction is played with the husband and the crew watching, is captivating and disturbing (a WWE film that captivates!?! WTF!). The third villain I mentioned earlier is ‘the condemned.’ The name of the movie is the name of the show. However, toward the end, a Katie Couric type is on CNN and unveils who the real Condemned are. We are the condemned. The audience is the reason the show exists. Blame must be bestowed on the mogul, but he was just meeting a demand. The audience put those people on the island. The fact that a WWE film had a message and delivered it well, is shocking. Still, I think because of this, the film will be ripped to pieces by critics. “How dare a corporation like WWE attempt a message movie! They aim at the lowest common denominator of people. We snub our nose at them and their audience! Low Lives in every sense of the expression!” None of this will be said of course. It will be hidden between the lines, but it will be out there. I don’t enjoy watching wrestling. That doesn’t mean I hate it or devalue it as a form of entertainment. The men and women of professional wrestling are highly trained, skillful performers and it is damn dangerous! The entire thing is choreographed with a few exceptions. One of the subtler messages of the film is a defense of entertainment. The Condemned is an argument to the WWE detractors. “You think we’re bad? Look to Survivor and the shows that REALLY prey on people’s dark desires.” The people who watch wrestling shouldn’t be looked down on either. Who are we, who is anyone to judge? OK, but did the action work? Yes. The contestants have ankle bracelets rigged with explosives. You pull a pin and boom! It’s a messed up version of tag football. There are plenty of people exploding and lots of fights, some of which are wrestling inspired, others are primal defense tactics-the kind of shit anyone would do if someone were trying to kill you. Some might say the violence is a direct contradiction to the message, but it goes hand-in-hand. The action is over-the-top and stylized in a conscious effort to tell the audience that this isn’t real. It is in fact, a fictional movie. The dialogue is crappy at times and effective at others. The Condemned is not a great movie. It won’t have a space reserved next to your Kubrick collection, but these days, if a movie delivers on a promise and winds up giving you just a little of the unexpected, it is a solid film that deserves recognition. I looked on imdb to find out information on the filmmakers, but their credits are lackluster. However, Scott Wiper, who co-wrote and directed The Condemned has a talent that cannot be denied. There won’t be a steady middle ground on this one. Because of the message and it’s transcendence from the genre, it will either be hated or loved. No doubt, I will be accused of being a ‘plant.’ All I can do is tell you I am from Memphis, TN and no one pays me to write. Memphis is a quite a bit away from the influences of Hollywood . But, by uttering the word, you are assuming that this is a bad film. The Condemned shouldn’t be judged before hand. It deserves the benefit of the doubt.