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Monday, April 30, 2007

The Condemned

I’m sure with all the remodeling going on at the Essex Cinemas right now the last thing Dale and Karen Chapman wanted was to put the word “Condemned” up on the marquee out front. That could confuse some people, and I’ve found one should never even try to underestimate the confusion of most people living in our society these days. How else can you explain the state of our government? Oh well. I sometimes think things are so grim in Washington DC that it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to find out that some covert hanky-panky was going on to make sure a television network started broadcasting a show just like the one depicted in the new movie The Condemned as a way to keep us all distracted from the failing war, the corruption within the current administration, and the thinly-veiled crapola that passes for legislative regulation these days. A series like The Condemned would be like giving a whole pitcher of Margaritas to every person in America; it would be intoxicating, fulfilling, and yet eventually it would be bound to lead to one big mess and a reeling headache. Still, for the first couple of episodes, it would be a gas!

I’ll bet you were expecting old Mrs. Cranky Clammy-pants me to HATE
The Condemned because it is so stuffed to the gills with violence and foul language, but ~surprise! ~ I thought it was a blast. The basic premise is really nothing too original. It takes the “Survivor” idea of dumping a group of strangers on an island and televises them trying to stay alive. Of course, the difference here is that these strangers are not a bunch of secretaries and accountants. They are hardened criminals, taken from Death Row prisons around the world, with the promise that the sole survivor at the end of 30 hours will be granted his or her freedom and presented with a large sum of money to start a new life. Fun, right? It was when a similar idea was called No Escape in 1994, Batoru rowaiaru (Battle Royale) in 2000, and the same concept appeared in other derivations like Lighthouse (also 2000) and even Lord of the Flies (1990;1963).

Here, we have wealthy television producer Ian Breckel (Robert Mammone; The Great Raid), who has put together a pay-per-view Internet event that has a world-wide audience that grows exponentially with each gory attack and killing captured live on streaming video. His chief engineer, Goldie aka Goldman (Rick Hoffman; Hostel), and Ian’s girlfriend Julie (Tory Mussett; Safety in Numbers) find themselves rapidly losing their enthusiasm for the project as the gruesomeness becomes more intense and real to them. While they knew there would be killing, they didn’t expect the murderers to be so vicious in their tactics or for them to torture and rape their prey before finally putting them down. So here, in the middle of this action thriller, we are presented with little bits and pieces of arguments for having a social conscience. It is curiously funny and more intense in its meaning than if it were aired by itself out of context because these snippets seem diametrically opposed to the point of view of the vast majority of the audience filling the seats of in this very auditorium for this movie where this sudden burp of ethics seems to have escaped. I doubt the Ladies Red Hat Society is going to make this an après-tea afternoon entertainment. It’s more of a NASCAR-lovers dream come true. Well, to be more precise, it’s a WWE lovers dream come true, though I suspect if you love one you probably love the other. In this case, it is the WWE itself that is responsible for producing The Condemned, which was directed by actor Scott Wiper (Dark Descent), who also co-wrote the film along with brothers Andy and Rob Hedden (Clockstoppers). More important than the writing though is the casting of WWE superstar Stone Cold Steve Austin as Jack Conrad, the (naturally) unjustly imprisoned American undercover secret government agent who is tossed in among this bunch of cutthroats and forced to play rough. In doing so, he is instantly recognized back home by his superiors at the covert agency he was working for before his capture as well as by the woman who loved him and thought had deserted her and her son without so much as a goodbye. Even Stevie Wonder can see that the stakes are immediately going through the roof at this point to make sure Jack/Stone Cold Steve wins this twisted competition and shuts down the sicko operation in the process.

Before terminating anything, however, the real gross fun comes in counting off the violent, gory, and sometimes accidental deaths of the “players” as they track one another through the jungles and along the beaches of their South Pacific island. Whether exploding into a million pieces, becoming impaled on a dock pole, or just being bashed to death by a rival murderer there is always something to look forward to as the numbers whittle down to a final showdown between Jack and the nastiest of the other convicts, the suave talking Brit Ewan McStarley, played by former professional footballer (that would be soccer to us Yanks) Vinnie Jones (X-Men 3: The Last Stand). Ewan is the sort of killing machine that would consider Hannibal Lecter a wussie “girlie man” to quote a certain California Governor. He may speak the King’s English, but he is not above gutting an opponent like a fish if need be, and so he is the obvious choice to invade the television studio on the island and show the camera crews and executives on hand how violence on television really can spill over into real life. The only thing that would have made this bit more delicious would have been the cameo slaughter of Jeff Probst for no other reason that the gratuitous thrill of it all.

It is almost too ludicrous for words to report that after a bloodbath of such monumental proportions has taken place we are then treated to a tv commentary by a talking news head who espouses at length about the tragedy of our culture’s enjoyment of violence as entertainment. I mean, really, it’s
like including an anti-hunting public service announcement at an NRA convention. What’s the point? Fortunately this comes at the tail end of the movie so that almost everyone is guaranteed to have eaten most of their snacks and won’t be tempted to throw food at the screen in protest. Instead, nearly everyone just laughed at the showing I attended, apparently razzed up from the 113 minutes of bone crunching and blood-letting they had just enjoyed. If I’d not still been finishing off a gi-normous Diet Pepsi I’d have thought for a brief moment I was back amongst the Romans at the Coliseum as the troops cried out for more bloodlust. And really, isn’t that the All-American way?

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