Saturday, April 28, 2007

REVIEW: The Condemned

It's with some kind of sick irony that I realized, watching the astonishingly loathsome "you've-gotta-be-shitting-me" Big Meaningful Speech moment of "The Condemned," that THIS deplorable crapfest might actually BENEFIT from the recent Virginia Tech tragedy by striking some of the more easily-led in the world as a "meaningful" peice. Y'see, what the trailers aren't telling you is that - I kid you not - "The Condemned" fancies itself a political "message" work: What we have here, believe it or not, is a ham-fisted screed against media violence, the "irresponsible" entertainment industry and the pervasive eeeevil of the Internet. From the WWE.

The only thing worse than a bad movie is a bad message-movie... And the only thing worse than THAT is a bad message movie that aims to condescendingly contradict it's own base of appeal. Even removed from that aspect of it's existance... "The Condemned" is, far and away, the worst film to have yet emerged in 2007. A complete abomination on so many levels it's hard to put into words. Best-described as "aggressively irredeemable," it's the kind of work where you run out of things to critique and start looking in vain for anything nice to say about it. Off the top of my head, the nice things you can say about the latest opus from WWE Films are: It wasn't directed by Brett Ratner, it does not involve anyone directly affiliated with "American Idol" and it does not star Chris Tucker, Dane Cook, Cedric the Entertainer or Carlos Mencia in any capacity.

In the broad strokes, the film is a combo/ripoff of "The Running Man" and "Battle Royale," framed primarily as a star-vehicle for onetime professional wrestling star "Stone-Cold" Steve Austin. He's cast as Jack Conrad, one of nine death row inmates "purchased" from Third World prisons by inscrutable millionaire Ian Breckel (Robert Mammone) and dropped onto a camera-covered desert island with orders to fight to the death for the amusement of customers via a pay-per-view internet feed; with the promise of freedom and cash going to the Last Man Standing. Given that all the other convicts are even LESS noteworthy as "names" than Mr. Austin, (save for Vinnie Jones as the nominal bad guy) and given that Jack Conrad turns out to be a betrayed U.S. Special Forces vet who just wants to get back to his farm, his bottle-bland.. er.. blonde ladyfriend and her two moppets; AND given that the eeeevil Internet Baddies sneeringly select Jack hoping to (I shit you not) exploit worldwide anti-Americanism as an audience-getter ("They're gonna looooove to hate this cowboy!!") you can kinda-sorta guess how this turns out.

Ineptly directed in irritating "shaky-cam" by Scott Wiper (is that a name or a recyclable bathroom product?) this is an "action" film that contains not one memorable or interesting action scene - just jumbled flurries of grunting and pummeling to the tune of the foley department taking out a week's worth of agression on raw meat and pleather sofas. Of the (innevitably) Baskin Robbins assortment of multicultural "players," we do get ONE Japanese martial-artist; but it becomes readily apparent that he's only there so that the old "Raiders of the Lost Ark" gag of a show-offy Eastern fighting-as-art master quickly smacked-down with Good Ol' Fashioned American quick-kill can be ripped off for the umpteenth time. Yawn. That Austin has all the personality of the tree-trunks his physique chiefly resembles isn't much of a surprise, (his initial claim to fame as a wrestler was "shunning" character gimmicks and style in favor of simply embodying a bullheaded, beer-drinkin' bar-brawler,) but it's genuinely shocking how little physical presence he has onscreen - he stomps around with all the grace of a pack-mule, and most of the time seems to be searching in vain for his mark. It's enough to make you miss Brian Bosworth.

As if just being dull and incoherent wasn't enough, the film has a truly off-putting nasty streak when it comes to the targets of it's violence. Nearly EVERYONE in here is on-hand to get stabbed, smacked, shot or blown up... but there's something inescapably "icky" about how much this supposed "bruiser-vs-bruiser" slugfest concentrates on violence against it's female characters. There are two drawn-out, protracted and explicitly-violent rape scenes - one attempted, the other a sucessful gang-rape/murder. The Internet Baddies' skeleton-crew of computer technicians is disproportionately staffed with women, all of whom are there to be gunned down in the finale by a vengeful 'player' who lectures them on the evils of their profession. When the film wants to let us know it's time to start really hating Breckel, he gives his girlfriend a slap across the face. This is lightyears beyond the kitschy homoerotic-phallicentrism of "300"... this is real-deal misogyny, plain and simple. (Incidentally, Mr. Austin has a domestic abuse arrest on his rap sheet. Charming.)

And, yet, even for all those sins, "The Condemned" would be easily dismissable as another Z-grade actioner for the pile if it didn't committ the one gravest sin in all of bad filmmaking: It's got "something to say"... and it's preachy.

Toward the end, when the shit has hit the fan and all the viewers and lackeys are starting to See The Error of They're Ways, we're treated to a gravely-serious lady reporter's televised interview with head-baddie Breckel - who, by the way, is sure to pepper his every bad-guy speech with words like "blogger" and "chat-room" so we know EXACTLY whom the film is training it's moralistic finger on. She takes him to task for what 'entertainments' like his are doing to the culture, especially the children, and the film poses Breckel as a sneering hypocrite hiding behind "it's the parent's responsibility." Incredibly, after Breckel is shown mouthing these words, the Voice of God lady reporter tells him that that's a "cop-out" and that the industry MUST take "responsibility" for what it's putting out. She then - and I swear to you, I'm not exaggerating this - turns to face "the world," he face filling the screen, and sagely intones how very, very ashamed of ourselves we should be for watching things like... well, like this movie... because (again, NOT kidding) when we do " is WE who are really The Condemned."

I stand before you stupefied, beholding what I have beheld. I didn't think I'd live to see another "message movie" as moralistic, inane and insulting as "The Island"... but here we have it. A heavy-handed pro-media-censorship "action" movie, brought to us by the makers of "See No Evil." I shudder at the thought that the year is young, and that I may yet see a movie that's actually worse than this.