Despite the recent nostalgic keening from Messrs. Rodriguez and Tarantino about the exploitation films of yore, there's still plenty of cinematic turds out there today, albeit with bigger budgets. These aren't simply films that misfire or are lame, but movies that begin with an outrageous premise, smash their way through a "plot," glorify the untalented and somehow still take themselves seriously while offending everybody else.
The Condemned is such a film. Scott Wiper's actioner is the latest flick from the World Wrestling Entertainment's film unit, designed to celebrate huge, no-neck men who grunt one-liners and pummel their opponents while mook-rock blares.
In Condemned, entertainment mogul Ian Breckel (Robert Mammone) has a genius idea: Collect 10 death-row inmates (apparently you can just get them), set them loose on an island to kill each other, and give the last man standing his freedom. Using zillions of cameras, Breckel's team will capture all the mayhem and stream it live to paying consumers over the Internet.
To maximize global profits, Breckel has imported thugs from all four corners -- eight men and two attractive women in push-up bras. Our hero is Jack Conrad (former wrestler "Stone Cold" Steve Austin), an American pulled from a Central American prison. (If you think he's a real criminal, you don't see many action films.) But despite the early We Are the World vibe, the story boils down to white English-speaking men: Conrad vs. the Brit McStarley (former U.K. footballer Vinnie Jones) vs. Breckel.
Getting to the final smackdown, it's a two-hour death-o-rama -- some players die slowly and in bone-crunching detail; others go quickly in exploding fireballs. The Condemned easily busts one taboo -- both women are beaten violently by men -- before suddenly going all prim, and dashing away from a gang rape.
Even if you like a bloody action flick, be advised that the fighting here quickly grows tiresome, with cuts away to subplots killing any momentum. My favorite wastes of time were the scenes supposedly set in Washington, D.C. -- a cheaply furnished room meant to represent the collective strength of the FBI, CIA, NSA, DIA and other black-ops acronyms we're not cleared to hear about.
But action fans will be most mystified by the running subplot of self-righteous moralizing about how the craven entertainment industry gets rich pimping real (or, by default, utterly realistic) violence. Also on the sermon board -- the public's unquenchable desire to eat this barbarous stuff up. Hey, that's me watching this film! By Condemned's twisted logic, I should have left the theater as soon as I recognized my own complicity.
I stuck it out, though, to make sure the "good" guy won (by killing a bunch more people). Take the high road -- and save money -- by just staying home.