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Movie Review: The Condemned

The Condemned (Lionsgate, 2007)
Director: Scott Wiper
Writers: Wiper and Rob Hedden based on a story by Wiper, Hedden, and Andy Hedden

The Man Upstairs was nice enough to give ole Sam Loomis some space on his lovely website to do what I do best, dissect films to the point of… (Whatever adjective you would like to use there is fine by me). Since I’m done chasing down serial killers and their druid curses, I can actually sit back, relax, and enjoy some movies. (I’ll refrain from explaining that since those that will connect the dots will just get to be in my club quicker; consider your self honored or condemned, no pun intended.)

I should explain that I don’t have the access to the theater that the Man has, nor do I live in a city that lets the limited releases in for at least a month on most occasions, so forgive me if I relegate myself to the world of DVD more often than not. Plus, after a long week at work I just don’t enjoy leaving the house; I love my house with my big screen TV and my internet poker playing accessibility which usually allows me to kill two birds with one stone since that’s usually when I’m watching all the fine cinema I view on a weekly basis. Well, not all of it is high art judging from my first submission.

The Condemned is not what anyone will mistake for high art, but most movies that are considered high art are boring and trite, so bygones, people. While The Condemned might not be a great film by any stretch of the imagination, I give it all the respect and credit in the world for working its ass off to honor the great era of gut-wrenching action cinema that the 80’s and even early 90’s brought us. Now, when you first think of action films from that era, films like Die Hard and Lethal Weapon come to mind.

Those aren’t the films I’m referring to with their epic scale budgets and top-notch actors; they deserve a higher category all to themselves. No, I’m talking about the action films that were shot on a fairly shoestring budget and starred mostly former body-builders, athletes, or karate champs: Bloodsport, Above the Law, Stone Cold, Perfect Weapon, etc. If you know these films from watching them countless times on late-night cable or renting them over and over at your local grocery store, then you’re on the same level as me right now.

What I liked about these films was not there high aspirations, but the exact opposite. These films were reaching the lowest common denominator possible when it came to storytelling, acting, and other aspects that are better known in much more sturdy films. But what these films did have in abundance were outstanding action sequences, in a lot of cases great directors, that I truly believe knew how to blow shit up and decided to start filming it instead of going to prison because of it, and cinematographers that would go on to do bigger budgeted films, and last but not least, a whole lot of blood and guts, and if you were lucky some nice tit shots as well.

Little things like logical plot points and uniformed storytelling were not important. We got to see a lot of stuff and in some cases, people, blow up, and blow up nicely at that. I think every type of genre or film has its place in the pantheon of cinema study, and I think these films have become lost on most of the younger generation who have been exposed to the MTV style of Michael Bay.

So, at this point, you’re probably bored out of your skull wondering when the hell is this Loomis dude going to talk about Stone Cold Steve Austin and the film itself. Now, you impatient bastards, Now! The Condemned’s plot is as simple as they come. Breckel (Robert Mammone) is a wealthy television producer that decides to produce the most violent inducing grudgefest he can think of and air it live on the internet hoping to rake in a ton of viewers and money. He purchases 10 mass murderers, the worst of the worst, from around the world and places them on an undisclosed island to duke it out to the death. The lone survivor will get freedom and a briefcase full of money.

WWE Superstar, Stone Cold Steve Austin plays Conrad, one of the condemned prisoners picked to play the game. He ends up being the wild card of the bunch since he’s the one they know the least about, and as the film proceeds we of course find out that Conrad is not such a bad guy, but got stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time. Oh, and he’s a hell of a fighter too, wouldn’t you know?

The other prisoners are a cardboard cutout society. We’ve got a couple of women, one of which is married to one of the other prisoners playing the game. We’ve got the token Asian who is awesome at karate and seems unbeatable until he has to go up against the WWE rawness of Conrad. There is a black dude, a couple of degenerates, and Vinnie Jones. How could Vinnie Jones not be in this film I ask you? And since Vinnie is the only one you’re going to recognize besides Austin, guess who Conrad has to go one-on-one with in the end. Sorry, if I ruined some plot points for some of you out there, but if you can’t see that coming from the beginning of the film then maybe we need to start you off with a film that’s less confusing like say, The Care Bears Movie.

The premise sounds most similar to another lost 80’s action fun fest, The Running Man with Schwarzenegger in the Austin role and The Family Feud’s Richard Dawson in the Mammone role. One of the main problems I had with the film is that they didn’t make Mammone’s character near as much fun as Dawson’s. There’s even a scene stolen from The Running Man where Conrad tells Breckel he’s going to kill him; I won’t ruin that plot point except to say that he does. Seriously, how would you not know that is going to happen?

But I give Austin credit, he’s not a bad actor; he’s not a great actor either, but he’s heads above the Van Damme’s and Segal’s of the action world. Vinnie Jones is also a lot of fun as the crazy british dude.

The action is first rate. They have a great plot device that allows the prisoners to wear explosive devices on their ankles that will go off only when a pin is pulled from them; the film doesn’t bother to deal with the fact that this much explosive would pretty much go off with any kind of contact, but this isn’t Schindler’s List, it’s called The Condemned, please throw your reality check out at the door.

So is The Condemned perfect? Hell, no! It’s got plot holes that Arnold could fit his hummer through, and as I said earlier, Breckel is not a very interesting villain. I wish they would have made the character a little older and gotten someone like William Sadler or Lance Henriksen to do the part; that would have given the role quite a bit more weight.

There’s also an annoying moral majority aspect thrown in the film leading to one sequence that is as bad a scene as I’ve seen in 2007. A female journalist, after interviewing Breckel and asking him why he doesn’t see how wrong this is, actually looks straight into the camera and says, “Maybe we’re actually the Condemned.” Ha, ha! I couldn’t even joke about that. Thankfully the film doesn’t make that the last scene in the movie, and we still get plenty of people blowing up afterwards.

Overall though, The Condemned took me back to a time when I was much younger and less informed about what the world of film had to offer. Even as a kid, I still knew Rain Man sucked, but that’s a conversation for another time. But this film is a hell of a lot of fun if you just give into it, and what’s wrong with that? Watch Chariots of Fire or some shit after you’re done to make your self feel more wholesome and good. But as far as popcorn movies go, it doesn’t get much more fun than The Condemned in today’s age of the serious film. It’s nice to know someone can still make an exciting B-movie on occasion.

Sam Loomis

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