The Condemned is another of these action movie variants. The films novelty is in conflating the basics of The Most Dangerous Game barehanded survivalism genre with the reality tv horror film see the likes of Series 7: The Contenders (2001), Slashers (2001), Halloween: Resurrection (2002), Hell Asylum (2002), My Little Eye (2002), Reality Check (2002), Cruel World (2005), Survive This (2005), Are You Scared? (2006), Wrong Turn 2: Dead End (2007), Elimination (2010), Incite Mill (2010) and Camp Dread (2014) which take the logical extension from voting contestants off a show to simply eliminating them altogether. Although, the films that The Condemned remind of more than any of these is Battle Royale (2000), which likewise had a group (high school teenagers there, convicts here) abandoned on an island and forced to survive with the last contender alive being allowed to go free, and before that the French science-fiction film The Prize of Peril (1983) about a future where contestants fight for their lives on a tv gameshow, as well as the subsequent teen hit of The Hunger Games (2012). The Condemneds writers Rob Hedden and Scott Wiper have almost certainly borrowed from Battle Royale even down to the explosive collars that every contender is given, as well as the controllers randomly arming the contestants with different weapons. Of course, the one difference is that Battle Royale came out just before Survivor (2000 ) went massive and created the reality tv fad, whereas The Condemned comes out several years after.
The Condemned has been made as a vehicle for wrestler Steve Austin. Steve Austin, usually better known by the sobriquet Stone Cold Steve Austin presumably of intentional similarity to Lee Majors bionic hero in The Six Million Dollar Man (1973-8) is one of the more popular wrestlers to emerge from the World Wrestling Federation/World Wrestling Entertainment during the 1990s. Steve Austins appeal was largely one of a brawling bad-tempered redneck, which gained a surprising degree of popularity (that may well say something about the shows audiences), making him into one of the WWEs superstars. The Condemned has clearly been made mindful of the huge popularity that fellow wrestler The Rock/Dwayne Johnson enjoyed after milking his success in the ring out into an acting career. The Condemned even comes co-produced by the WWE with WWE head Vince McMahon listed as an executive producer and became one of a series of films highlighting popular WWE wrestlers that have been made since the late 2000s.
The Condemned works passably as an action movie. Unfortunately, the role that Steve Austin is cast in is one that requires him to keep his natural self in check. Rather than playing into Austins redneck persona, the film casts him as a peaceful warrior who prefers to remain uninvolved and kick heads only as a matter of last provocation. The role is simply too quiet a one for a barroom brawler like Steve Austin. (Indeed, this is a role that would have been perfect for The Rock who can suggest caged muscularity even with his glare). The script outfits Austins character with a cliche background though he is in a jail, he is not a criminal but in fact a Black Ops CIA operative; he only wants to return home to his girlfriend, an ordinary solo mom from the Midwest; he does not kill indiscriminately; hes a patriot and loyal to his country. Unfortunately, none of this succeeds in animating Steve Austin as a screen presence. He stomps awkwardly through the landscape, looking like a sullen, overweight hick with a hangover trying to remember where he parked his pickup truck. As an actor, Austin has zero screen charisma, not even a sense of humour. He makes Sylvester Stallone look like a character actor by comparison.
One of the more bizarre aspects of The Condemned is when the film stands still to take a moral stance against the exploitation of violence for television entertainment. This is standard stuff, nothing new and would be okay were The Condemned not co-produced by the WWE, which has made its millions out of exploiting violence as television entertainment and surely makes such proclamation an absurdly hypocritical one. Admittedly, the WWE does not go so far as deliberately killing competitors but when you watch their various cage matches and elimination competitions, you can hardly deny that the same people watching and rooting for their favourites would surely be exactly the same audience that would be watching the theoretical show on display here.
The Condemned is directed by Scott Wiper, an actor who had previously directed the action film A Better Way to Die (2000). Co-writer Rob Hedden had previously directed and written genre films like Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989), The Colony (1995) and Alien Fury: Countdown to Invasion (2000), as well as co-written Clockstoppers (2002).
The Condemned 2 (2015) is a sequel.