Look, when you've got a movie about convicts fighting to the death on a deserted island for a live Webcast, all you have to do to make a decent flick is stay out of your own way.
Tragically, "The Condemned" isn't content to combine "No Escape" with "Battle Royale." That would be too much fun. You know what's the opposite of fun? Being lectured about the horrors of violence by a murder-movie brought to you by the WWE.
"Stone Cold" Steve Austin is one of 10 death-row inmates hauled from Third World prisons to star in millionaire producer Robert Mammone's Internet snuff film. Nine will die, but the winner goes free. All the others have been found guilty of crimes ranging from dealing drugs to war-time massacres, but Austin is a man without a past. For some reason that surely has nothing to do with his immense popularity as a wrestler, Austin's convict may be the only innocent man among them.
He is a man of principle, too. While the others start killing each other the moment they're dropped on the island, he refuses to take part, focusing instead on tracking down the production crew that's assembled them there.
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"The Condemned's" relationship toward violence is very, very weird. It's full of savage beatings and hugely vicious deaths, but they're mostly filmed in Quease-o-vision, a shaky-cam, flash-cutting style that seems to be meant for the dual purpose of softening the bloodshed by making it impossible to see while inducing motion sickness in the viewer.
Maybe it's meant to condition us to feel sick at the sight of violence. That would fit right in with the endless parts of the movie that aren't happening on the battlefield.
Like the way Mammone's crew starts to get squeamish about its show after they've seen a couple real murders. They spend so much time dealing with the abrupt appearance of their consciences there's precious little left to watch as the muscle men punch each other until one of them stops living.
Lord how "The Condemned" does try to add some depth to the simple elegance of its "make men kill each other for sport" plot! A different movie could get pretty good mileage out of reveling in the bloodshed even as it condemns us for enjoying it.
That movie, however, would not rely on a "Won't someone please think of the children!" defense to make its point. I'm certain of that much. Once you drag the children into it, you lose. In the category of logical fallacies, that should be known as the "argumentum ad kindergarten."
You almost get the sense the WWE feels guilty for the way they've made their fortune. Well, way to go, guys. Your sudden concern for the corrupting effects of violence in the media has helped you accomplish the impossible: you've made a movie about people trapped on an island who end up killing each other, and somehow it's no good.
That's the kind of crime against cinemanity that should get you dumped on a jungly isle somewhere.