This Week: The Condemned (2007)
Tagline: “10 People Will Fight. 9 Will Die. You Get To Watch.”
WWE Superstars: Steve Austin, Nathan Jones
Also Starring: Vinnie Jones, Robert Mammone, Victoria Mussett
Synopsis: Jack Conrad is awaiting the death penalty in a corrupt Central American prison. He is “purchased” by a wealthy television producer and taken to a desolate island where he must fight to the death against nine other condemned killers from all corners of the world, with freedom going to the sole survivor. (via IMDB)
Watch It: Netflix / Amazon / YouTube
Out of all the films WWE Studios has had a hand in bringing to the silver screen (or straight to DVD, whatever), The Condemned is, amazingly, the only one to feature “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, arguably the biggest star in the history of the WWE. It’s also the only film starring the WWE Hall Of Famer to get a real-deal theatrical release: He had minor roles in other Hollywood movies, but the bulk of Austin’s filmography consists of starring roles in interchangeable, home-video-only action movies with titles that almost feel like parodies. (Tactical Force, Maximum Conviction and Recoil are but a few entries on Austin’s IMDB page.)
While the movie was a theatrical flop, it more than made its budget back in the home video market, grossing more than $22 million in its first 11 weeks of DVD release. If anyone wondered why WWE Studios continues to release straight-to-DVD movies, well, there’s your answer.
It’s also worth noting that out of all the films WWE Studios has had a hand in bringing to the silver screen, The Condemned is the only one I had almost managed to see the first time around. I had sneak-preview passes for the movie but after arriving at the theater and being waved in, my friend and I instead decided to theater-hop into a screening of Hot Fuzz starting at the same time. But now, a decade after its 2007 release, I’m able to cross The Condemned off my list.
Given that this is one of the best-known WWE Studios movies, I won’t spend a lot of time on plot, but in case you have never seen it before, here’s a crash course in The Condemned. The plot revolves around a wealthy TV producer who is hosting the ultimate reality show on a private island which he is livestreaming via the internet all around the world for $49.99 a pop. The hook? He has bought out 10 death-row inmates from third-world prisons across the globe and placed them on the island to fight each other to the death, Battle Royale-style, with the winner being set free and given a cash prize. Austin plays Jack Conrad, one of the 10 condemned, who was previously locked up in a prison in El Salvador awaiting execution.
(“Tell the warden to go f*ck himself” is a one-liner as good as anything Schwarzenegger or Stallone ever said, imho.)
It turns out that Jack Conrad isn’t who he says he is, and that he’s actually a former Delta Force soldier named Jack Riley (thankfully, no relation to Alex Riley) who was involved in a black ops mission gone wrong, hence the Salvadorian prison and all. But no one on the island knows his history, nor does the production team. In fact, the FBI is the one who finds out, as they’re one of the 12 million people streaming this 30-hour deathmatch online. The FBI calls his wife/ex-wife/girlfriend (it’s never made clear just what her relationship is, though it appears they have kids together) down in Texas, and they tell her about Riley/Conrad’s situation. She then rushes to a local bar to use the bartender’s laptop and watch because apparently the Broken Skull Ranch doesn’t have WiFi.
In the meantime, Conrad squares off against Estonian convict Petr, played by fellow WWE Superstar (and I use that term very loosely) Nathan Jones. It’s a WrestleMania XIX reunion! Conrad makes quick work of Petr, dumping him off a cliff and triggering the explosives strapped to his ankle, allowing for a hilariously violent mid-air death.
The movie goes from comical violence to real-deal, squirm-in-your-seat violence quickly, though, with U.K. convict Ewan (Snatch‘s Vinnie Jones) capturing a husband-and-wife pairing on the island, subduing the man and then violently raping the woman, all while 15 million people are watching at home. This causes some serious dissension in the ranks back in the production tower, and ends with Ewan calmly walking away after pulling the tab on the woman’s explosive pack, detonating her after assaulting her. Seriously f*cked-up stuff.
In the meantime, Conrad disables the GPS tracker on his explosive pack and makes his way toward the production compound with the intention of calling his wife/ex-wife/girlfriend, who, despite watching the show at her local bar, is magically back home to take the call. He gives her the coordinates of the island and she calls it into the FBI who dispatches a Navy SEAL team to the island.
But the slaughter continues, as Conrad escapes back into the jungle only to find Ewan and his cronie brutally beating down the husband of the woman he raped earlier, before lighting him on fire. Conrad slowly backs away into the darkness to figure out a new plan of attack, as 28 million people tune in to the livestream and see a man immolated. The producer, Ian Breckel (Robert Mammone) goes on a rant to his staff about how ABC and MTV are just as real as what they are doing, justifying the carnage to himself as the money continues to roll in and his employees get more and more queasy about their job.
Ewan and his cronie corner Conrad in some sort of hut alongside another condemned and chuck in Molotov cocktails to either flush them out or kill them. Conrad escapes through some sort of conveniently placed sewer grate right before the whole thing blows up, so everyone thinks he’s dead, leaving just Ewan and his cronie to battle for freedom. Then out of nowhere, Conrad shows back up and joins the scrum, making this a three-way dance (ironic, given that Austin hates triple threats). Conrad kills off Ewan’s cronie and gets into the losing end of a gunfight with Ewan, appearing to be killed once more.
But just like in the Three Stages Of Hell match, Steve Austin can’t be kept down for long (unless someone chucks a full beer can at his head), so he makes another miraculous recovery, but not until after Ewan has been taken back to the production compound and declared the winner. However, he gets double-crossed by Breckel, who says there’s no prize, so like any rational human being would do, Ewan begins massacring the entire production team, killing a half-dozen or so innocents as “Firestarter” blares in the background.
As he moves on to kill the Sweet Dee look-alike (who is the only person who continually objected to the producer’s sadistic whims), Conrad finally intervenes, catching Ewan off-guard with an absurd one-liner: “Sounds like you had a hard life. Good thing it’s over.” Then Conrad shoots him, like, nine times. It is borderline comical. Conrad and Sweet Dee head to the top of a hill to take down the producer’s escape helicopter, chucking Ewan’s explosive pack into the cockpit as it flies away, killing him and anyone else who happened to be in the chopper. Happy endings all around!
For the movie’s final scene, Conrad arrives back home in Texas in a black SUV, and as Nickelback blares in the background, he steps out and sees his wife/ex-wife/girlfriend whatever for the first time in over a year. A small smile creeps across his face, apparently because he can’t hear the Nickelback, only we can. The end.
So! We’ve reached the end. In Pro Wrestling Movie Club, we have three specific questions that must be asked at the conclusion of each film:
1. Is The Movie Objectively Any Good? No, it’s not as good as Battle Royale which preceded it or The Hunger Games which followed it, but it’s an enjoyable slice of action with a fair amount of humor sprinkled in.
2. Are The WWE Superstars Any Good In It? Steve Austin kicks ass in this movie. I honestly am baffled as to why he hasn’t continued with the big screen, because he looks like a total natural in The Condemned.
3. Would I Be Embarrassed To Have A Friend Find A Copy In My Blu-Ray Collection? What?
Next Week: I watch The Rundown, starring The Rock and Seann William Scott.