Grim reality in 'The Condemned'

Posted: April 27, 2007

"The Condemned" is about a reality show in which the losers die, which no doubt conforms to Simon Cowell's private fantasties about "American Idol" contestant Sanjaya Malakar.

Most die by the hand of a contestant played by "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, wrestler turned actor, attempting to fill the shallow void in the low-rent action field left by Steven Seagal.

Austin's style involves being enormous.

He looks like Michael Chiklis as The Thing - stocky, squat, with an inflated muscle mass that appears to limit the movement of his arms and legs.

He's not a gifted line-reader, for sure, but there's something in his delivery that is suited to his expressionless visage and hulking physique.

Asked in "The Condemned" what he does for a living, Austin says, "I'm an interior decorator," and it gets a big laugh.

In fact, Austin plays a black ops commando languishing in a Central American jail when he's extracted to appear in an Internet-based reality show engineered by a creepy billionaire - nine condemned prisoners, pitted against each other in a fight to the death on a small island.

The whole thing is photographed by a network of hidden cameras and distributed worldwide via the Internet to anyone who pays $40 to watch.

Given the fact that Steve Austin is the only thing resembling a name in this B-movie bloodbath, it comes a something of a surprise that "Condemned" pauses frequently to criticize commercialized violence.

We see in "The Condemned" that when the killing (and raping) actually begins, some of the show's organizers find they don't have the stomach for it.

The movie displays sympathy for some of the contestants, and director Scott Wiper asks for a hushed pall when the likable contestants are slaughtered, stabbed, burned alive.

He doesn't get it.

A preview audience howled with approval no matter who died, or how.

"The Condemned" even lectures reality-show viewers (and, by implication, its own audience) as enablers, which may be true, but enabling "Survivor" is a far different thing than subsidizing actual murder.

Anyway, few in the packed "Condemned" house seemed to take it personally.

They eagerly awaited the moment when Austin executes the most sadistic contestant, prelude to the moment when he confronts the man who organized the event.

It's the second movie in a month (following "Vacancy") that turns up its nose at those who arrange and photograph violence, only to find the best way to express its disgust is to kill them.

Violently. *

Produced by Joel Simon, directed by Scott Wiper, written by Scott Wiper and Rob Hedden, distributed by Lion's Gate.

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