Yet another dystopian gameshow action movie – though this one purports not to take place in the sort of future seen in The Tenth Victim, The Running Man or Series 7: The Contenders and instead goes (like the remake of Rollerball) with present-day technology and an internet pay-per-view hook-up. Unethical media mogul Breckel (Robert Mammone) – and how many ethical media moguls are there in films, even though most films are backed by people who presumably don’t take kindly to being presented as Bond villains? – buys condemned prisoners from tinpot countries like Chile, former Soviet Republics and Mexico (he doesn’t try Texas, which would have been funnier) and puts them all on an island, with exploding ankle bracelets copped from the necklets of Battle Royale, and insists they fight until there’s only one hard man (or woman) standing. When his Arab maniac is assassinated before he can be dropped on the island, Breckel finds a replacement in Jack Conrad (Steve Austin), an American rotting in a Mexican jail (he reasons that Americans are so hated the world-wide web audience will love seeing him killed) who is plainly a hero-type undercover operative who has kept loyally quiet for a year inside but has a nice family waiting for him back home. A few quandaries are established: how will husband-and-wife killers cope with the condition that only one survives? Will the alliance between the British bastard (Vinnie Jones) and the Japanese killer (Masa Yamaguchi) hold out? Is the foxy African killer chick (Emelia Burns) really sweet on the American black guy (Marcus Johnson) or just planning to get close enough to pull the tab on his ankle-bomb? And, as even the staff (Rick Hoffman) are appalled by the carnage – the bad baddies take time to torture a helpless woman to death – and voice qualms, Breckel acts even more evilly, to the extent that we realise the title refers to him. Given all this, it’s plain how things will pan out.
I remain a pushover for stories like this, but The Condemned – produced without apparent irony by World Wrestling Entertainment – isn’t even up there with Turkey Shoot or the remake of Death Race 2000 as a hypocritical science fiction gladiator movie. Problem Number One is Steve Austin aka ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin – though, to my mind, only Brian Bosworth should be allowed to up his action film cred by using that prefix – who just doesn’t register as an acceptable movie hero. He does his stunts and reads his (few) lines, but he has the screen presence of a ton of walnuts shoved into a blow-up doll. Vinnie Jones, barely breaking sweat, out-acts Austin in every confrontation, and building a film around this particular star probably forced the casting of the very bland Mammone in a role which really requires a standout ham baddie (like Lance Henriksen or Michael Rooker or Powers Boothe) in order that the lead isn’t completely evaporated. The heavy-handed message is that watching spectacles of real violence is wrong, which prompts cutaways to folks in bars looking guilty after they’ve tuned in to the pay-site. However, this film doesn’t actually deliver carnage intense enough to force an audience to reassess its own involvement in non-stop thumping and battering cut to classic rock. And the few sentimental bits are laugh-out-loud nonsensical. Director Scott Wiper – working from a script by Rob and Andy Hedden, whose credits run to Clockstoppers and a Friday the 13th sequel – stages a lot of fights, but none are particularly outstanding.