Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Condemned (2007)(Minor Spoilers Review)

**This review contains MINOR spoilers. No major character deaths, reveals, or twists.**

Jack Conrad (Stone Cold Steve Austin) has one shot at freedom, but he’ll have to compete in a fight or die reality game show to earn his ticket. As a former US Army soldier, Jack is stuck in a corrupt and brutal prison in El Salvador, and he’s awaiting his execution, but a last minute offer from the warden changes everything.

Jack agrees to participate in Ian Breckel’s (Robert Mammone) reality show on a remote island, so Breckel writes a big check for Jack’s release. On the island, Jack is forced to compete against other death row inmates from different countries. Jack fights Ewan McStarley (Vinnie Jones), Go Saiga (Masa Yamaguchi), Yasantwa Adei (Emelia Burns), Petr Raudsep (Nathan Jones), Lamont Bruggerman (Andy McPhee), Kreston Mackie (Marcus Johnson), Paco Pacheco (Manu Bennett), and his wife, Rosa (Dasi Ruz). Another death row inamte named Teach (Rai Fazio) fights the helicopter drop into the water, and he suffers an accidental death after a hard landing.

The contestants receive food, water, and weapons during scattered supply drops, but time is running out. Each contestant is wearing the mandatory ankle bracelet bomb. In thirty hours, the bomb will explode, and if a contestant tries to tamper with the bomb, they’ll trigger an explosion. The contestants are furious, but Breckel offers two choices for salvation: Option one, said contestant can choose to pull the red card on the bomb to trigger an explosion, or you can avoid suicide with a win.

Breckel receives support from a team that includes his girlfriend, Julie (Tory Mussett), Goldy (Rick Hoffman), Bella (Sam Healy), Eddie (Christopher Baker), and Baxter (Luke Pegler). Cameras are rolling 24/7, millions from around the world pay $49.99 to watch Breckel’s game, and Breckel is trying to shatter records for page views, so he can brag about beating ratings for the most recent Super Bowl.

McStarley emerges as the early favorite to win it all, but Jack has plans to throw a monkey wrench into Breckel’s sadistic game, when he reaches out to his ex-girlfriend, Sarah Cavanaugh (Madeleine West) for help. A reporter named Donna Sereno (Angie Milliken) scolds Breckel during an interview, and the FBI tracks Breckel’s game with some helpful tips from Sarah. Does Jack have a chance as a one man wrecking crew? Or will he run out of time and allies, when the bomb explodes?

Steve Austin is a suitable fit for Jack. Jack is limited to snappy one-liners, and a barrage of fight scenes, so you don’t have to worry about any problems with Austin stepping out of his comfort zone. On top of that, Jack is a scrappy guy with a good heart, and he’s trying to do the right thing, so you want to root for him.

Vinnie Jones fills his usual role for the snarling tough guy, and Jones is a nice fit for the sleazy and despicable adversary. Robert Mammone is a believable scumbag, and Rick Hoffman provides most of the comic relief here. Can’t say too much about the other death row inmates. For the most part, they’re scoundrels and savages, who will do anything to survive, but Paco, Rosa, and Mackie emerge as likeable characters as the story progresses.

My biggest problem with The Condemned? Mixed signals. The Condemned wants to be this mindless fun, guilty pleasure action film, but the need to deliver messages of morality muddles the tone for this one. Donna scolds Breckel for making a “snuff film” during an interview at the beginning, and towards the end, Donna proudly stands on her soap box to express her disappointment and disgust with the paying customers for Breckel’s show during a long-winded soliloquy. And I can’t forget about Julie’s teary-eyed pleas to Breckel, and Goldy’s moral dilemma.

Think about it like this. You’re sitting down at a fast food restaurant, and you’re about to devour a double cheeseburger with a large fry, a large soda, and a large chocolate milkshake. Out of nowhere, an employee walks up to you before you take your first bite. He or she puts a list on the table. This list contains the nutrition facts for everything in front of you.

After you look at the list, are you thinking about enjoying your food, or pigging out with no shame? No. Now you’re thinking about extra calories and pounds you don’t need, high blood pressure, and clogged arteries. That’s the biggest problem here: Occasionally, The Condemned ruins the fun with preachy morality gibberish. Also, the teased rape scene at the beginning, and the implied rape scene with Rosa and McStarley don’t help the problem. They don’t show everything in the Rosa scene, but you know what’s going on.

The Condemned had a shot at cult classic gold, but I’m going with a bare minimum passing score for this one. Yeah, the preachy stuff is annoying at times, and certain scenes of depravity feel random and unnecessary. But The Condemned delivers enough hard hitting fight scenes and sporadic bursts of adrenaline filled action sequences to hold your attention for one hour and fifty-three minutes. Plus, the cheesy one-liners are good for a few cheap laughs. In the end, I’m just glad we don’t have to worry about The Condemned 2 or 3 for more useless and forgettable straight-to-video releases.

Rating: 5/10

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