With The Condemned, the thirst for violence turns to the Internet, and wrestler Steve Austin becomes a moral compass for the hypocrisy of society.
A billionaire TV producer (Robert Mammone) has a great idea for a reality show that he wants to put on the Internet, and his goal is to beat the 40 million Super Bowl audience. He has compiled a crack team of young, hip and immoral tech geeks, directed by Goldman (Rick Hoffman), and puts cameras throughout a remote island where former prisoners are going to kill each other while audiences watch after shelling out the pay-per-view fee. The location is done on a remote secret island, and the death row prisoners are bought from prisons around the world with the promise that the survivor gets to walk free. Among the contestants are a rogue Aussie named McStarley (Vinnie Jones), a martial arts expert (Masa Yamaguchi), a husband-and-wife team (Manu Bennett and Dasi Ruz), a monstrous killer who doesn't do much more than grunt (Nathan Jones) and others known only as The Italian, The German and other monikers quickly forgotten. Enter the sole American, Jack Conrad (Steve Austin), who's in a South American prison for some obscure reason and is recognized on TV by his wife (Madeleine West) who tries to save him. However, it looks like Conrad is pretty good at helping himself.
Don't expect the acting to be much more evolved than what could be seen among the World Wrestling Entertainment superstars, especially since many of them were plucked from the ring to star in this morality tale. But Austin (who had in a strong cameo in Adam Sandler's Longest Yard) proves he has a sense of humor, as well as strength. Vinnie Jones is ridiculously over-the-top as the Aussie who's the hand-picked winner of this game, shown setting up alliances, Survivor style, only to turn on them later. The supporting cast are refreshingly entertaining but one-note caricatures, both in the contest and running the contest. It's obvious that they aren't going to be around long, but the actors do milk their tiny roles for every bit of attention they can get. Rick Hoffman, as the brilliant camera mastermind of the project, is both whiny, sniveling and mean-spirited, so when he joins some of the rest of the crew and suddenly develops a backbone and a conscience, he ends up stealing the movie with his acerbic humor. But it's the understated American hero, Conrad, who holds a mirror up to the people who like to watch this stuff.
Director Scott Wiper, who co-wrote this story, has also acted in similar movies like this (A Better Way to Die). It's obvious he knows what he's doing with The Condemned and develops a sense of voyeuristic angst, like those of us who can't keep our eyes off a train wreck. Like the darkly subversive Belgian film, Man Bites Dog, the camera crew remains safely distant and remote until the reality directly involves them. Then, the crew wonders, ''What the hell are we doing?'' while the audience might be thinking, ''What the hell are we watching?'' Much like Series 7: The Contenders, Rollerball and other movies which show a dark and bloody near future, this kind of reality doesn't seem too far away and maybe proves that movies which provide this type of gladiator spectacle target a certain segment of the human population who need to blow off steam.
Hollywood.com rated this film 2 stars.