While thousands of Romans filled the Colosseum to witness the glorious brutality of gladiatorial events, the idea of man hunting man classed itself up in the 20 century with the novel “The Most Dangerous Game,” in which a wealthy hunter invited a big-game hunter to his island for the ultimate hunting experience. After several screen incarnations, the basic storyline was given a shot of satirical extremism for 2003’s Battle Royale, which turned middle school students against each other with explosive neck collars for reality TV viewing pleasure. For the concept’s latest rendition, The Condemned doesn’t attempt to inject anything new into the story. In fact, it takes Battle Royale’s basic framework and strips it of its satirical strengths, making a dumbed down, manufactured movie product and bringing the spectacle back down to the level of gladiator barbarics.
Instead of a reality TV show, The Condemned is a reality show that is streamed over the internet by a multi-millionaire who contracts 10 death-row prisoners to fight to the death for their freedom. Instead of explosive neck collars, the contestants are rigged with explosive ankle collars that blow up if they are tampered with, someone pulls the red tag or 30 hours pass, whichever comes first. Mixed into this basic framework are several contrived subplots revolving around Jack Conrad (“Stone Cold” Steve Austin) that add nothing but length to the movie. The inmates are quickly dropped onto a remote island rigged with hundreds of cameras and the story proceeds as predicted – violence ensues, characters both liked and dislike die, and the end doesn’t come soon enough.
Although there is no doubt that The Condemned is a dumb as dirt action movie with fight sequences that were apparently filmed by a zoom-happy, five-year old with Tourette’s, there is a sliver of a satirical undercurrent. As the millionaire goes about airing brutality on the internet, he defends the project (also named “The Condemned”) by saying it's manufactured entertainment created to meet a demand. Meanwhile, a moralistic journalist confesses that it’s not the show’s producer that saddens and angers her, but the tens of millions who paid to watch “The Condemned” (*wink*). Perhaps the writers are smarter than we give them credit for. It’s a bold move to tell your audience that you are taking their money and showing them crap.
By all accounts, the movie is right -- don’t waste your time or money on trash. Don’t support movies that are nothing more than a cash cow. The Condemned makes it crystal clear that WWE Films is in it for the money; to find another way to package its soap operatic violence and sell it to the masses. See No Evil (starring Kane) and The Marine (starring John Cena) proved there is an audience clamoring for insulting movies that glorify violence, and The Condemned capitalizes on it. Despite the in-film warning, there will still be laughs when Steve Austin calls another man “sweetheart” and there will still be people eager to get a seat in The Condemned’s crowded theater on opening night.