The Condemned takes place on a deserted island where a cheesy web producer has planted remote-controlled surveillance cameras to transmit a live web feed of 10 death row prisoners killing one another after being put on the island with mini-bombs attached to their ankles. The conceit of the “reality” show is that which ever of the prisoners survives 30 hours on the island will be awarded freedom and pile of money. Camp humor invigorates early scenes before the film begins taking itself too seriously with the debatable moral that “We who watch are the condemned.”
“10 people will fight, nine people will die,” is the stolid tagline that announces the aspirations of a movie tailor-made for wrestling fans familiar with the likes of Stone Cold Steve Austin. Austin plays Joe Conrad, an American prisoner “purchased” from a Central American prison along with his handpicked rivals.
It’s a pity that the filmmakers didn’t play against type in choosing their protagonist, given the effort they went to in creating 10 surly terrorists. Of the nine other murderous captives, there’s a Brit (Vinnie Jones—Snatch), a Mexican husband-and-wife duo, a badboy from Japan, a murderess from Ghana, a drug-dealer from California, a German rapist, an Italian militant and a Russian ravager.
Conrad was sentenced to death in El Salvador for blowing up a building that killed three men, but his thick neck and instinct for mayhem conceals the fact that he’s a family man who wants only to return to his wife and kids back in Texas. The unintended inside joke seems to be that Texas is the new cinematic cradle for trashy b-movies, given that Grindhouse was also made there.
The crux of the satire lies in the set-up. When production manager Goldman (Rick Hoffman) tells his demented boss Breckel (Robert Mammone) that, “Television is more complicated than war,” we get a sense of the film’s priorities. One of the doomed warriors is referred to as an Islamic fundamentalist, “as if anyone in the audience will know what that means.”
For his part, the ever-watchable Rick Hoffman (Hostel) runs away with the movie with his trademark twitchy gestures and snide delivery. Goldman becomes a moral barometer for the audience as the snuff-movie-within-a-movie attracts millions of viewers at 50 bucks a pop. We watch Goldman gradually become sickened by the death that he deals in, and discover second-hand that the same murders we view as entertainment in the context of The Condemned are traumatizing to the people seeing it first hand.
It’s a foregone conclusion that eventually some producer with enough money will figure out a way to create a live-feed snuff web presentation that will simultaneously disgust and attract viewers. Any question of blame assigned to the people who watch such atrocities will be washed away in the same court of public opinion that tacitly allows bogus wars to take the lives of countless victims. A symptom of exploitation movies is that they incite public dialogue about social issues from a gut level of articulation.
The Condemned might just be the first in a new line of exploitation movies to revive the genre. Either way, it does pose a question about why the word “whore” is considered equal to or greater than “murderer.” Something has to give. MTW