What would happen if we took two of the more regrettable trends in American television, professional wrestling and reality TV, and combined them on celluloid? That's essentially the idea behind the "Stone Cold" Steve Austin vehicle The Condemned. It's the latest offering from WWE Films, the production company set up by WWE honcho Vince McMahon to showcase his more marketable personalities.
With WWE Films, McMahon appears to be emulating the strategy employed by former Marvel CEO Avi Arad, who founded Marvel Studios in order to better exploit the vast collection of popular characters from his comic book titles. WWE stumble out of the gate with their first two efforts, See No Evil and The Marine, both of which were roundly panned by critics.
By the looks of it, The Condemned will fare just as badly, if not worse.
In a plot best described as a synthesis of The Running Man and TV's Survivor, amoral TV producer Ian Breckel (Robert Mammone) places ten condemned criminals on an island and pits them against each other in the ultimate life-and-death battle royale, with the last one standing winning his or her freedom.
Dozens of cameras are situated throughout the island to record all the action, with the footage instantaneously uploaded to the internet. For a hefty fee, anyone can log on to the show's website and catch all the carnage live.
The ten contestants are a diverse lot, a collection of malevolent folks of various nationalities and stereotypes, from the crafty Japanese martial arts expert to the brawny Russian brawler to the scowling African-American badass. And in charming bid at gender equity, three cleavage-baring female warriors are included in the rowdy bunch.
The lone good guy of the group is Jack Conrad (Austin), a former Army Ranger imprisoned in Central America after being captured during a botched black ops mission. He really doesn't want to kill anybody, but darned if he doesn't end up having to. A lot.
Believe it or not, Austin is the best part of the film. The wrestler's less-is-more approach to dialogue suggests that he's well aware of his limitations. Save for a few priceless quips like "Let's go, sweetheart," Austin lets his fists do the talking.
If only the rest of the characters could have done the same. The Condemned is a third-rate action flick filled with scenes that would be laughable if they didn't so often border on offensive. Even the fight sequences are largely uninspired, attempting to compensate for their lack of creativity by ratcheting up the sadism.
Predictably, Austin dispatches his foes one by one, with an eye for eventually taking on Breckel. Toward the end, after we've been treated to myriad displays of brutality, the film tries to throw in some convoluted moral about how wrong the whole deal is. It's a rather pathetic attempt at the old Hollywood trick of condemning violence while simultaneously reveling in (and profiting from) it, and it fails miserably.
Looks like it's back to the drawing board for WWE Films. If we're lucky, maybe they'll decide to throw in the towel.