May 3, 2007

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The Condemned (R)
Like The Simpsons’ Itchy and Scratchy, death row inmates fight and fight and fight and fight and fight in The Condemned, a movie full of head-butts, punches and a surprising amount of exploding people.

Evil slimy TV producer Ian (Robert Mammone) has decided to do reality one better by broadcasting worldwide (via Internet) a death match between 10 international death row inmates. The condemned have 30 hours to kill all of their fellow contestants. The one who survives will win his or her — there are two women — freedom plus money. Explosive-packed anklets ensure that the criminals won’t escape or turn pacifists. These dirty, muscle-bound competitors in the ultimate episode of Survivor come from all over the globe but, for the sake of making this a none-too-taxing movie, most of them speak English. Quickly, the contest comes down to Ewan (Vinnie Jones), a Brit with a murderous past, and Jack (Steve Austin), an American fished out of a Central American jail about whom little is known.

Meanwhile, Ian argues with a journalist and with some members of his staff over the ethics of what he’s doing. The irony of a movie like this containing a be-ashamed-of-yourself-for-being-a-violence-voyeur message is so extreme that I think it might have turned back on itself, ouroboros-style, and become some kind of meta non-irony. It’s like an irony black hole where sarcasm is sincere and bad acting creates multi-dimensional characters.

Here’s the problem with creating a movie full of a lot of characters and plot and talking that is essentially all a showcase for WWE-style fight scenes: why not just watch professional wrestling? Between TiVo, cable and DVD, you can watch Steve Austin do his thing any time you want, without bothering with a bunch of tiresome scenes involving, for instance, Jack’s back-story (he has a girl back home and, naturally, his reasons for being in prison are a bit different from those of his fellow islandies). The movie isn’t bad for what it is — an excuse for fight scenes and explosions — but it also seems a bit old-fashioned. Couldn’t a good street-fighting video game or a rerun on the Spike network serve the same purpose? Are there really that many wrestling fans clamoring to see their favorite tough-guy do his familiar thwumping and smacking in new scenery?

But, hey, if you want to go to the movie theater for a dose of explosions and fights and a bit of gruesomeness — but without a lot of bothersome plot or actors trying to emote — The Condemned fits the bill just fine. C-

Rated R for pervasive strong brutal violence and for language. Directed by Scott Wiper and written by Wiper, Rob Hedden and Andy Hedden, The Condemned is an hour and 53 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Lionsgate.