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‘The Condemned’ Attempts to Validate Violence With Provocative Concepts

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Rating: 2/5CHICAGO – This is why wrestlers wrestle and actors act.

The Condemned” tobogganed downhill the second it splashed the WWE on an introductory screen. Sure, you know the WWF, but you may be learning for the first time about World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc.

Vinnie Jones (left) and Steve Austin in “The Condemned”.
Photo courtesy of Vince Valitutti

It’s a publicly traded sports entertainment company. While one of its cash cows is film, this particular film could be more like a cash hog after it opens on April 27. I’m not sold that the WWE should be in the business of film at all.

In fact, it reminded me of “yellow journalism,” which is a pejorative phrase coined for overtly scandalous and sensational journalism. “The Condemned” could be considered “yellow film”.

Senseless and gratuitous violence can be a titillating thrill ride when it’s not just gore for gore’s sake and the message is meritorious. The film “300” almost makes gore feel beautiful while “Grindhouse” makes it artistic.

“The Condemned” fails to instill a laudable higher purpose. The on-camera talent really isn’t to blame. This screenplay shouldn’t have seen the big-picture light of day. If it did, it’d be better served as a short featured in an obscure indie house.

After surviving this film, you might want those 113 minutes back to eat something, sleep, stare at a wall or watch television on mute. No nominations will be considered for this film. Its makers have to know that.

It didn’t even feature major or “real” actors to begin with. Its star is “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. He’s the ripped wrestler who worked on a loading dock in Texas until he became a professional wrestler in the late 1980s.

Emelia Burns in “The Condemned”.
Photo courtesy of Vince Valitutti

This project is part of a three-picture deal for Austin under the WWE film banner. Austin also appeared in “The Longest Yard” with Adam Sandler and the CBS show “Nash Bridges” for 13 episodes.

Born a Texan as Steven James Williams in 1964, his other monikers include “Austin 3:16,” the “Texas Rattlesnake,” the “Ringmaster,” the “Stevester” and the “Bionic Redneck”.

Though he has professionally been known in the world of wrestling as a garbage-mouthed punk and a natural-born killer, in “The Condemned” he was one of 10 men and women “purchased” from death row by a wealthy TV producer.

“It’s taking reality television to the extreme,” Austin, who comes from a background of hunting and fishing, said in the film’s production notes. “It asks a few hard questions about our fascination with those shows.”

He was thrown on a clandestine, desolate island to fight to his death. The last man or woman standing would be set free. Bombs were strapped to the legs of the convicts and set for 30 hours to make nerves go blooey.

“It was actually very difficult for us to make [Austin] use a stunt man in some of the most dangerous sequences,” said producer Joel Simon. “He wanted to do everything.”

The island was outfitted with cameras. Consumers of any age anywhere in the world could view a live Web stream of the uncensored events.

“A great action movie has to – on some level – act as a cautionary tale about violence,” said director Scott Wiper. “There’s certainly a theme in this story about the dangers of violence on television and in video games. Overall, I wanted this movie to take the audience on one hell of a ride.”

Steve Austin (left) with director Scott Wiper on the set of “The Condemned”.
Photo courtesy of Vince Valitutti

No CGI was used. The filmmakers wanted all the brutality to be based in realism.

“There are a few moments where [Austin] finally gets me down and just starts pummeling me,” said co-star Vinnie Jones from “Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels” and “X-Men: The Last Stand”. “I had bruises all over where he just hammered me. That was a big part of it. We were both prepared to go that extra mile.”

The murders were premeditatedly visible in plain sight to people across the globe. In the film, more than 40 million subscribers – an audience as large as the Super Bowl – paid $50 each to witness nine people perish. That’s $2 billion in revenue.

Dirty little voyeurs.

“What’s … fantastic is that [Austin] is not a wrestler in this movie,” Jones said. “He’s a movie star. If [he] comes out as the big hero, then I come out as the best bad guy ever. The audience will be booing me and loving him.”

The condemned all had their own stories. Two of them were married. That’s sinister. After watching bodies blow up, some of the profiteers of the reality Internet experience began having second thoughts.

The film attempts to validate its making by selling it as a thought-provoking mental ninja. While it clearly portrays its concept as being immoral and illegal, it’s most interesting that it exists at all to convey exactly what it’s saying it shouldn’t.

© 2007 Adam Fendelman, HollywoodChicago.com

HollywoodChicago.com editor-in-chief Adam Fendelman


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