Whether through the pixelated gore on our computer screens or the simulated actions of real people in films and television, there always seems to be an ethical discrepancy in using violence for storytelling and entertainment while simultaneously deploring it in “real life.” At what point does entertainment end and dehumanization begin? Much to my alarm, that’s the question that forms much of the premise of The Condemned, the latest offering from the monstrously inept WWE Films.
The concept behind The Condemned — using cons or other degenerates to participate in televised combat — has been thrown around for a while (most noticeably in the Japanese bloodbath Battle Royale), but in light of the unfortunate reality-TV boom and our culture’s heightened sense of voyeurism, it still seems relevant. Given the chance, would we watch real wholesale slaughter? Considering trends in torture porn and internet depravity, we probably would.
But the film can’t decide whether it wants to genuinely explore the idea, or exploit it. As the preview suggests, The Condemned is a thunderously dumb attempt at action grandeur starring an un-emotive mountain of meat who pretends to body-slam people for a living (Steve Austin). As earnest as the filmmakers are when assuming a pose of self-reflexivity about the very violence they portray, that violence is still center stage in the dumbest possible way, with the concept introduced midway through as a pitiful attempt at face-saving validation.
The story: Millionaire mogul and freelance jackass Ian Breckel (Robert Mammone) goes around the globe purchasing death-row criminals (?!) for a hyped internet site that will feature said criminals running around a remote island killing one another as millions theoretically watch and cheer. Among the inmates are eight muscle-bound men and two big-boobed women (?!?!). One of the men happens to be our friend Steve Austin, a special-ops fellow who was abandoned after a mission in Central America. Each con is rigged with an exploding anklet, etc. …
Events play out as you’d expect: The psychos happily begin skewing and asploding one another with stylish glee, until Stevie (I’m assuming he was the protagonist, but he acts with the ability of a tranquilized manatee) turns the tables on both the mean convicts and the show’s sadistic producer. An end is presented as being happy.
It’s only about halfway into The Condemned and during surprising lulls in the exposition that a few characters arrive at the conclusion that this manipulated, televised violence is quite wrong. Whether intentional or not, this backhanded attempt at introspection within an alarmingly bad action film gave me a glimmer of hope that some sincere moral inquiries would start taking place. No such luck. At best, the self-reflection some of the characters begin to feel about violence-as-entertainment is a plot device and little else. After all, could a production company that finances fictional wrestling, not to mention a string of goofy action flicks, genuinely comprehend the irony of decrying the desensitization of violence while doing what they do? Somehow, I doubt it.
Phillip Stephens is the lead critic for Pajiba. He lives in Fayetteville, AR.Running Moron
Film Reviews | April 27, 2007 | Comments ()